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Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2017

Real Madrid reclaimed a two-point lead at the head of La Liga on Sunday after overcoming a disastrous performance from goalkeeper Keylor Navas to beat 10-man Real Betis 2-1 thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos.

Navas had a nightmarish day between the posts for Los Merengues and should have been sent off just a quarter into the match for taking out Betis midfielder Darko Brasanac running through free on goal.

The goalkeeper then suffered a bad stroke of karma when he turned a routine save into his own net before Ronaldo and Ramos rescued three points for Madrid with goals in the 41st and 81st minutes, respectively. Cristiano Piccini was dismissed with red late on for a second yellow card.

Barcelona’s 2-1 defeat at Deportivo La Coruna earlier on Sunday left the door open for Madrid to step back into La Liga’s throne:


Los Blancos opened proceedings with a heap of possession in their favour, gradually racking up shots on goal, although just two of their efforts in the first 30 minutes managed to trouble Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan.

Ruben Castro was the main source of Los Blancos’ troubles in defence and enjoyed his own share of possession in the game’s earlier exchanges, but it was Brasanac’s run that first drew attention to nervous Navas.

Madrid’s No. 1 was fortunate to stay on the pitch in the 21st minute, when the Costa Rican’s attempt to block Brasanac’s poke past him went awry, sliding into the midfielder in what seemed an obvious red card offence.

Goal’s Ben Hayward even went so far as to outline the incident as proof enough that Navas is no longer at his best in Spain’s capital and needs to be replaced:


Betis will feel justice was done, however, when Navas turned a relatively simple save from Antonio Sanabria’s shot past his own goal line, and the keeper was left red-faced for gifting the visitors their opener.

Real Madrid thought the shot into Navas’ feet was safe in their goalkeeper’s mitts, but an influential stutter saw the stopper scoop his side behind, via Sky Sports La Liga:


Los Verdiblancos didn’t exactly roll over after going behind, either, although Madrid also appeared to discover another gear in time, opening up space in the opposition half with ease at times.

Ronaldo then built on a period of sustained pressure and stooped to head Marcelo’s lunging cross from the left wing inside Adan’s left post, pulling Madrid level at a time when the equaliser was needed.

The Portugal captain’s leveller also pulled him level with a certain ex-England icon, with Ronaldo’s 19th goal of the league campaign enough to see him add another legend to his list of equals, per Sky Sports Statto:


Madrid restarted the second half with a vision to capitalise on their pressure going in at the break, and while it told in possession, it was the visiting outfit who enjoyed the more clear-cut chances at goal.

Manager Zinedine Zidane’s side finally reaped the benefits of that pressure, though, and it was in the 78th minute that Piccini’s tug on the quicker Lucas Vazquez earned him a second card. Yahoo’s Andrew Gaffney said the dismissal was deserved:


And who else other than Madrid’s Captain Fantastic was on hand to make the one-man advantage count, driving Toni Kroos’ corner into the back of the net just minutes later to save his side’s blushes and improve his fearsome goal record:


Both teams exchanged attacks in the game’s final five minutes, but Betis were left to rue their costly errors in defence, failing to restrain Zidane’s juggernaut in its bid to reclaim its La Liga lead.

It was fitting that even Navas managed to find some redemption in the end, keeping out a terrific Sanabria header in sensational fashion, batting away a looping attempt at the top right to restore some credit.

Even Navas’ first-half horror show wasn’t enough to hold his team-mates back from restoring a two-point lead at La Liga’s summit, made all the sweeter by the fact Real also have a game in hand.

 

Post-Match Reaction

Zidane was pleased to see his team win by any means.

Zidane was pleased to see his team win by any means.FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

It was only natural that Zidane’s post-match interview questioning turned to the performance of Navas after the result, but the manager was happy to back his keeper as just having a mixed day at the office, per ESPN FC’s Dermot Corrigan:


The Frenchman also hailed his side, whom he said “had the patience” to ultimately outlast Real Betis and steal the three points needed to climb back into La Liga’s driving seat.

Corrigan provided more quotes from Zidane’s press conference, and the tactician was happy to bask in the sorrow of his peers after making the most of Barcelona’s slip:


Los Blancos will be able to spread their assets across multiple campaigns more comfortably knowing they have more room to manoeuvre at the top.

And it doesn’t matter if Zidane’s side snatch their points by major margins or slim scorelines, Zidane will be happy to see Real’s winning ways continue.



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