And that’s your lot from this one. Cheers for reading, and enjoy what remains of your weekend before the unending turmoil and bleakness of the working week. Night!
Well well. Could that be a vital one in the title race? Madrid are now two points clear of Barcelona and five up on Sevilla, with a game in hand on both. They’ve still got to play both, but those games are at the Bernabeu and by the time the Sevilla fixture comes round in May, it might actually be all over.
Full-time: Real Madrid 2-1 Real Betis
And that’s that - Madrid are back on top of the table.
90 mins + 2: Great save from Navas! Dumisi swings over a cross from the left, Sanabria gets up and directs the header into the bottom corner...but a full-stretch Navas leaps across and gets enough of a hand on it to claw it away from goal. Up and down evening for the Madrid keeper.
90 mins: Three minutes of added time. Madrid actually clinging on a bit here...
89 mins: Betis have a free-kick from a ways out after a Marcelo foul, but Pardo’s shot from that distance was always going to be optimistic, and it’s blocked.
88 mins: Quick stat about the Ramos goal, his eighth headed notch of the season...
86 mins: Marcelo goes into the book for leaving a late one on Dani Ceballos, who’s been relatively quiet this evening.
84 mins: Change for Betis, as they try to salvage something from this game: Brasanac is off, with Alex Alegria coming on.
81 mins: Another simple goal for Madrid, as an outswinging corner comes across to the edge of the six-yard box, where Ramos is waiting to power a header into the bottom corner. Ten goals for the season for the Madrid captain now.
GOAL! Real Madrid 2-1 Real Betis (Ramos 81)
Ramos! Again! Remarkable stuff!
79 mins: Final change for Madrid, as Isco is replaced by Marco Asensio.
Red card! Piccini sent off!
78 mins: Betis down to ten men, after Vasquez is set through on goal by a quite brilliant pass from Marcelo, Piccini rather blatantly pulls him back and the second yellow card is a formality.
76 mins: Isco plays a lovely pass through the Betis defence for Ronaldo - in an implausible amount of space on the right side of the box - but he cuts across his shot and it skews wide at the near-post.
75 mins: Kroos booms over a corner from the left, but that’s headed clear. Betis doing a decent enough job of frustrating Madrid...so far.
72 mins: Delicious finish from Ronaldo, lifting the ball over an advancing Adan and into the net...but he’s denied by a linesman’s flag. Initial replays - admittedly not from a great angle - suggest he was level, but you can’t necessarily get too upset about the lino getting that one wrong. Well, not logically, anyway.
71 mins: And that’s Morata off for Benzema.
69 mins: Sub for Madrid, as Lucas Vasquez comes on for James. Presumably that will mean a switch to more of a 4-3-3, with Vasquez on the right and Ronaldo left. Karim Benzema getting himself stripped off too.
67 mins: You’d struggle to say this Madrid team is playing particularly well, but they do have something about them. Would be quite a surprise if they don’t find at least one goal.
64 mins: Change for Betis, and it’s not exactly a positive one: Castro is off, and tough-tackling midfielder Petros dos Santos replaces him.
63 mins: Ronaldo cuts in from the left and slides a pass to Kroos on the edge of the box, but the German cuts across his shot and it was always drifting wide, which it eventually does.
61 mins: James plays a delightful pass through to Ronaldo, but he goes down under/near a challenge from Pezzella when clean through on goal. Replays suggest that the referee was exactly right not to give anything, as the tackle was timed to perfection, even if he did take a chunk of Ronaldo afterwards. But that was a hell of a risky tackle from the Betis defender.
60 mins: Modric shows again just what a dreamy footballer he is by chasing back and getting a foot in to deny Castro in the area. The ball eventually finds its way back to the Betis man, but he shoots over. At the other end, Ronaldo takes aim from the edge of the box, but that’s straight at Adan.
58 mins: Dumisi clips a cross in for Sanabria in the middle, but Navas comes out a claims it. Not entirely convincingly, but managed it solidly enough in the end.
55 mins: Modric finds himself a pocket of space then pings a crossfield pass to Marcelo, but the Brazilian left-back completely miscontrols it. What a waste. Like using a Ming vase to serve Skol.
52 mins: Marcelo crosses in from the left, it hangs for a moment but Adan storms out and clears everything - ball, Morata - before it drops to Isco, but he can’t create anything of real danger.
49 mins: From the resultant corner, Dumisi rises and heads at goal: it was a regulation take for Navas, but as we’ve seen in this game that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll actually save it.
48 mins: Piccini drives down the right and gets into the area, but only Castro was in the box for him to aim at, so he goes for the low cross-shot, which is deflected behind.
46 mins: We’re away for the second-half. Can Madrid wake up again and reclaim top spot?
Well, they’re level, but Madrid aren’t exactly grabbing this chance given to them by Barcelona’s defeat earlier with both hands. They’ve broadly been the better team, but to say they’ve not been convincing is quite an understatement.
Half-time: Real Madrid 1-1 Real Betis
43 mins: Madrid smelling blood here. They counter at some pace, look like they have a numerical advantage but Morata’s pass is just half a yard behind Ronaldo on the edge of the box, and he can’t quite get it from under his feet.
40 mins: You could make an argument that the Betis defence just made a more egregious error than Navas at the other end. Astoundingly simple goal for Madrid, as Marcelo skims over a cross from the left, where Ronaldo - Cristiano Ronaldo, mind you - is waiting completely unmarked, seven yards from goal. Only one outcome there, and he heads it purposefully into the bottom corner.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-1 Real Betis (Ronaldo 40)
Well, the ‘hang onto this, lads’ method didn’t really work.
37 mins: Betis doing a decent enough job of calming things down here, and dare we say it wasting a little time. Mighty early to be doing that though...
35 mins: Bit of a goalmouth scramble as Carvalhal skims a cross in from the right, but Betis manage to scramble that one clear. Could be a long hour or so for their defence...
32 mins: So Madrid once again behind, and they go about the familiar business of cleaning up their own mess. James crosses in a free-kick from the left, but Ramos has one of those 50p head efforts from about ten yards out and it flies off at a rather unfamiliar angle.
30 mins: Piccini goes into the book for the most straightforwardly cynical tug back on Marcelo, but obviously complains about it anyway.
27 mins: Maybe Navas recognised that he should’ve been sent off and just decided to try righting that wrong. Maybe.
25 mins: Yowch, rough couple of minutes for Navas. The ball is fed to Sanabria about 15 yards out, he shoots side-footed with a little power but not a great deal, Navas dives to his left and saves fairly easily. BUT WAIT! He then lets the ball slips from his hands like a particularly elusive bar of soap, it bobbles behind him and like a man trying to stop a glass of water falling over but in fact just knocking it all over the floor, Navas only succeeds in pawing the ball over the line. Lovely piece of slapstick.
GOAL! Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis (Sanabria 25)
Oh, what an error from Navas!
21 mins: Good LORD, Navas is lucky to still be on the pitch. The ball is hooped over the top for Brasanac to run through, way clear on goal. He doesn’t quite get control of the ball and Navas charges out of his area, tries to intercept it with a header but completely misses, and takes out Brasanac just outside the box. Remarkably, not even a free-kick is given. Not too strong to say the referee bottled that one.
17 mins: Castro again might have half a chance after being played through, but he’s put off enough by a sliding challenge from Ramos for the ball to slip through to Navas. Ramos was actually quite lucky there - Castro could easily have gone down in the area with limbs flailing around like that.
13 mins: A shot! Betis have a shot! They counter at some pace down the middle and for a moment have three on two, but the effort from Ruben Castro is saved relatively easily by Keylor Navas.
12 mins: An absolute hammer of an effort by Isco after being set up by Modric, but it flies just - just - past the post. Adan was clutching at Madrid air with that one, absolutely no chance was he getting it.
11 mins: James shoots at goal from just outside the area, but that was straight at Adan and without much power. Other than that it was a decent effort. A strong start from Madrid continues, though.
10 mins: Oh Luka. Lovely, lovely Luka.
8 mins: Another half-chance for Ronaldo, who is played in on the left of the area, but his low shot towards the near-post is shovelled - not entirely convincingly - away by former Madrid keeper Adan.
7 mins: Big chance for Madrid: James does well to keep the ball in on the right, he sets Morata free on goal but the forward tries to play in Ronaldo at the far post rather than shooting. The ball is just too far in front of Ronaldo and while he does reach it, he can only smack it way over.
5 mins: Madrid have started on the front foot, as you might imagine, with Luka Modric directing things as per. Marcelo crosses towards Ronaldo in the area, but that’s blocked before it can get anywhere near its intended target.
3 mins: Isco feeds Ronaldo in the area, the grand old man tumbles vaguely under the challenge of Pezzella, but any hope of a penalty there was optimistic in the extreme.
1 min: We’re away. Doesn’t immediately look like a 4-4-2 for Real as Ronaldo has started from the left, but that will shake out more as the game goes on.
Short memorial for Raymond Kopa now, who died last week. Here’s Brian Glanville’s obituary of the great man, who won three European Cups with Madrid in the late 1950s.
Only a few minutes til kick-off. Pass the time by watching this loads.
Still, Madrid haven’t exactly been sashaying to their results recently. They have conceded first in five of their last 12 games, have been behind in five of their last seven, lost to Valencia a couple of weeks ago, came from two down to beat Villarreal and needed two goals in the last four minutes to draw 3-3 with Las Palmas.
Betis, it must be said, do not have the best record against Madrid. Which is to say they haven’t beaten them since 2008, haven’t won at the Bernabeu since 1998 and Madrid have won three of their last four encounters by five goals. So, like we said, not the best.
Navas, Carvajal, Ramos, Nacho, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Rodriguez, Morata, Ronaldo. Subs: Casilla, Benzema, Casemiro, Kovacic, Lucas Vasquez, Asensio, Danilo.
Adan, Piccini, Mandi, Pezzella, Tosca, Durmisi, Pardo, Brasanac, Ceballos, Sanabria, Castro. Subs: Gimenez, Navarro, Martinez, Petros, Donk, Joaquin, Alegria.
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Valencia)
It’s quite easy to be fairly parochial, when it comes to observing European football from a British perspective. But Gareth Bale really is a very important player indeed for Real Madrid. After helping them to a steamroller start to the season, he missed nearly three months with an ankle injury, during which time their lead at the top of the table was chipped away at and eventually conceded. They haven’t lost a game he’s started this season. Admittedly, that’s only three and they’ve had some decent results sans Bale, but the Welshman plays a big role for this team.
But not today, for he is suspended as Real Betis come to town. Granted, few will cry salt tears for Zinedine Zidane at ‘only’ being able to field Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and/or Alvaro Morata up top, but it’s still a kick in the pants. Still, this might mean Zidane is able to field his preferred formation. “With 4-4-2 we have more balance,” he said this week, “but I’m not thinking about these things. I know that we can play in many ways and we can do it well. With three or two up top, we can change our system. The most important thing is attitude and what we want.”
Still, Real have a big chance without Bale today, thanks to Deportivo la Coruna. Barcelona, possibly emotionally spent after their escapades against PSG the other night, lost 2-1 to Depor earlier on, meaning Zizou’s lot have a chance to return to the top of the table, should they defeat Betis here. Sit back and see how they get on.
Kick-off: 19.45 GMT
Nick will be here shortly. Meanwhile, read Sid Lowe’s piece with Andreas Pereira, Victorien Angban and Jérémie Boga, on loan at Granada from Chelsea and Manchester United...
Chelsea against Manchester United is on television on Monday night, 8.45pm on Teledeporte, so here’s the question: who’s getting the food in? Andreas Pereira grins, nods to the right and thumbs in the direction of Victorien Angban. Sitting to the other side of him, Jérémie Boga agrees. “Him,” he says, smiling, signalling across the table. As for Victorien, he looks a little blank at first, which is not entirely surprising considering the question was asked in English, and then he starts giggling while the other two crack up. Again.