Goals from Asier Illarramendi, Gareth Bale, Pepe and Alvaro Morata have given Real Madrid a 4-0 victory over Real Sociedad at Anoeta.
Madrid needed the three points to keep tabs on Barcelona and Atletico Madrid who both won earlier in the day. At kick-off Los Blancos were respectively five and six points adrift of the teams above them but have returned the gap to a more manageable two and three.
Jagoba Arrasate’s side were chasing victory to keep alive their Champions League challenge but remain six points back on Athletic Bilbao, who play at Levante on Monday.
The home side had most of the first-half but found themselves behind at the break when Illarramendi, whistled on his return to San Sebastian, converted after Claudio Bravo parried Karim Beznema’s powerful effort.
It was a goal completely against the run of play but La Real lacked the quality to convert their first-half dominance into goals. The only change after the break was Madrid were the ascendant side, rather than Sociedad.
Bale doubled Madrid’s lead just past the hour mark when he returned Bravo’s careless pass with unerring accuracy, rifling the ball into the bottom corner.
Pepe made it three when he hooked in Sergio Ramos’ knock-down and Angel Di Maria split apart the Sociedad defence to free Alvaro Morata for a fourth goal to crown a remarkable about-face.
Jagoba Arrasate went with movement and speed in attack, teaming Sergio Canales, Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann, rather than Imanol Agrrietxe.
Isco replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI, taking the forward’s place in the front three with Ronaldo rested due to a knee complaint.
Madrid also named Nacho at left-back in place of Fabio Coentrao and had a second ex-Sociedad player, Xabi Alonso, in midfield, with Angel Di Maria on the bench after an illness.
Vela had the best chance of the opening 15 minutes when he met a flicked-on corner with his thigh, only for Diego Lopez to bat the ball away. The assistant referee’s flag also went up but replays suggested Luka Modric was playing the Mexican onside.
The former Arsenal forward later found Griezmann with a sumptuous cross but the France international’s header beat both Lopez and the crossbar with the goalkeeper – and a few Madrid defenders – helpless.
Madrid, despite a sloppy showing, were in front at the interval and they built on it in the second-half. Sergio Ramos rattled the crossbar with a header but it was an all-round better showing.
Luka Modric’s influence grew as he linked the midfield and attack in a manner missing in the first-half. The focus pre-match was on the absence of Ronaldo but Di Maria’s unavailability may have been equally telling, as the Argentine performs the role assumed by Modric.
Arrasate attempted to change the momentum of the game by swapping midfielder David Zurutuza for Agirrexte but it was Madrid who went close to scoring shortly after the change, Benzema’s rasping, rising left-footed effort cannoning against the crossbar.
There was some concern for Madrid when Bale was felled by Inigo Martinez but the Wales international was fit enough to punish Bravo’s poor clearance, sending the ball straight back past the goalkeeper to add to Madrid’s lead.
The difference between the two halves was perhaps best summed up by the change in contribution from Griezmann and Vela. The front pair terrorised the Madrid defence in the first-half but were passengers in the second, a tame Griezmann shot notwithstanding.
La Real’s intensity dropped as the game went on and never looked like getting back in the tie. Madrid were able to see out the result, goals from Pepe and Morata adding gloss to a superb second-half for Ancelotti’s team.
Real Sociedad 0-4 Real Madrid
Illarramendi 44, Bale 65, Pepe 85, Morata 89 (RM)
Real Sociedad: Bravo, C Martinez, Mikel (Pardo 74), I Martinez, Angel (Ansotegi 18); Bergara, Zurutuza (Agirretxe 63) Elustondo; Griezmann, Vela, Canales
Real Madrid: Lopez; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Nacho; Modric, Alonso, Illarramendi; Isco (Di Maria 81), Benzema, Bale (Morata 85)