Potential injuries to Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema marred another five-star showing from Real Madrid as they thrashed Sporting Gijon 5-1 on Sunday.
Pepe came into the heart of defence following a calf injury to Sergio Ramos, in what was otherwise an unchanged team from last week’s 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna and more disappointment for James – who has been linked with Manchester United this week.
Zinedine Zidane did his best to divert Madrid’s transfer ban before the game, although their problems paled in comparison to Sporting’s, with the Asturians having been unable to buy players since last January and star defender Bernardo Espinosa ruled out for seven months with knee ligament damage.
Madrid debuted under Zidane with a 5-0 demolition of Deportivo La Coruna last week, and they needed just seven minutes to pick Sporting apart as Gareth Bale knocked in a corner at the near post.
Los Blancos then doubled their lead two minutes leader, Dani Carvajal’s long pass along the grass being flicked up by Karim Benzema for Cristiano Ronaldo to swivel on and rifle past Ivan Cuellar.
The goalkeeper was then beaten again moments later, although he could do nothing about Madrid’s third goal, Bale’s whipped cross being turned home by Benzema’s sensational, overhead kick.
The onslaught showed no signs of abating as Madrid took a 4-0 lead inside 18 minutes, Carvajal – who took up playmaker duties – putting the ball on a plate for Ronaldo to tuck away for his second.
Sporting kept Madrid at bay for the next 20 minutes, even managing to test Keylor Navas via Jony’s curling drive from the right, but Los Merengues made sure they grabbed a fifth before half-time.
Starting from Carvajal once more, the right-back’s square pass was flicked over the Sporting defence by Isco, and Benzema took the ball down before sending a delicate dink over Cuellar.
However, Madrid were dealt a blow on the cusp of half-time as Bale went down clutching his calf and was not risked for the restart, before Benzema suffered a freak injury from substitute James, who accidentally kicked the striker when teeing himself up for a shot.
Los Merengues subsequently took their foot off the gas, which invited Sporting to push on, and they showed great character to avoid caving in and pull one back through Isma Lopez, who scored his first-ever La Liga goal as he turned a low cross into the bottom-right corner.
Real Madrid 5-1 Sporting Gijon
Bale 7, Ronaldo 9, 18, Benzema 12, 41 (RM) Isma 62 (SG)
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal; Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco (James 60); Bale (Jese 46), Benzema (Kovacic 65), Ronaldo
Sporting Gijon: Cuellar; Lora, Luis, Mere, Isma; Sergio (Rachid 61), Cases; Jony, Halilovic (Ndi 46), Menendez; Guerrero (Sanabria 73)
Referee: Undiano Mallenco