An energetic start from Real Madrid was enough to see them edge out Sporting Gijón at the Santiago Bernabéu – as the Asturian side’s solitary first-half goal wasn’t enough to earn a result on the night. The closeness of the score-line meant that fans and players were noticeable jittery until the final whistle and neither side was able to capitalize on the end-to-end flow of the game, especially in the latter stages.
An unfortunate knee injury to Gareth Bale in midweek meant that Zidane had to shuffle his favored attacking trident, while the likes of Carvajal, Marcelo and Isco were rested with one eye on the upcoming El Clásico. As a result, the team lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Danilo, Ramos, Pepe, and Nacho forming the back-line; Modric and Kovacic forming an all-Croatian double-pivot; and Benzema leading the line supported by the attacking midfield trio of Lucas Vázquez, James Rodriguez, and Ronaldo.
Los Blancos dominated the opening exchanges of the game and had the goals to show for it as Ronaldo followed up his 5th minute penalty with a towering header from Nacho’s cross in the 18th minute. Zidane’s men looked hungry for goals in what looked to be an inevitable rout, but Sporting held on long enough to create their own chances and managed to make a game of it in as Carlos Carmona expertly finished past Keylor Navas in the 35th minute.
Abelardo Fernández was seemingly unable to motivate his players for the second-half as they failed to threaten for long periods. However, their golden chance came when a clumsy tackle from Nacho saw Sporting awarded a penalty with just 13 minutes on the clock. Luckily for the Spaniard, Duje Cop let Madrid off the hook as he fired well over the bar with his attempt. The tense finish to the game ultimately bore no fruit for Sporting and Real were able to hobble over the finish-line with visibly relieved looks on their faces.
Fortuitous results elsewhere made it an even more important win for Zidane and Co. as they go into next week’s all-important Clásico with an emphatic six-point lead over their arch-rivals Barcelona – meaning the Catalan side simply cannot afford to drop more points in the title race. This added pressure could play into Madrid’s favor and it’ll be hard to bet against them given their level of consistency under Zidane’s tutelage, illustrated by their 31 game unbeaten streak. Ronaldo has also rediscovered his goal-scoring form in recent weeks and will be hungry to add to his league tally in what can only be described as a monumental encounter.