As expected, Real Madrid left Juegos Mediterraneos with another three points on Friday night, extending their record winning streak to 20 games with a 4-1 win over struggling Almeria.
Carlo Ancelotti’s unstoppable Madrid did not have things entirely their own way against the battling Andalucians, who had caretaker boss Miguel Rivera in charge. Almeria hit back with a screamer from Jose Antonio Verza after Isco had given Madrid an early lead, only for Gareth Bale to restore Madrid’s lead before half time.
It was Casillas’ penalty save on the hour that arguably proved the turning point, however, finally knocking the stuffing out of the resilient southerners, and helping him to 230 EuroFantasyLeague points for the season. Marcelo brought down Edgar Mendez in the area and Verza, buoyed by his excellent first-half strike, stepped up to take the kick, only for his well- struck effort to be saved by the goalkeeper low-down to his left.
The home side appeared to lose heart after Casillas’ save as Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all went close to extending Los Blancos’ lead before Ronaldo embellished the scoreline with two late goals to take his Primera tally to 25 for the season.
Madrid’s win means they lead La Liga with 39 points from 15 games, four points ahead of Barcelona, who drew at Getafe, and seven clear of third-placed Atletico, who slipped up at home to Villarreal. Almeria, who have named Juan Ignacio Martinez as their new Coach, are in the mire.
Ancelotti’s men have cast all-comers aside this season and, with so few goals conceded, the eminently professional Casillas has been a low-profile figure, conceding just 11 goals in his 13 appearances in La Liga. He has also been beaten only twice in the four Champions League games he has played.
Ancelotti signed Keylor Navas from Levante in the summer, but the Costa Rica World Cup star has deferred to Casillas in the pecking order at Santiago Bernabeu. It has been a welcome return to form for the 33-year-old, a one-club man whose record of 491 Primera appearances – rising to 698 in all competitions since his debut 14 years ago – seems unlikely to be bettered.
The undemonstrative captain of club and country has fought his way back to being Madrid’s No. 1 for this season with dignity and professionalism after being injured and subsequently dropped by Jose Mourinho in 2012-13 in favour of Diego Lopez, who has since left to join Milan.
Unable to regain his La Liga place under Ancelotti, who continued to favour Lopez, Casillas was entrusted by the Coach in the Champions League and the veteran keeper was rewarded with another winner’s medal after the 4-1 victory over Atletico in May.
That win in Lisbon proved to be just a temporary respite for Casillas, who went on to endure a torrid World Cup as holders Spain crashed out at the group stage. Many considered his career to be over after two particularly high profile blunders in the opening game, which Spain lost 5-1 to the Netherlands.