Forget Ronaldo - Ramos proves he is Madrid's ultimate big-game player with Clasico heroics

By Joe Wright 4 December 2016 105
Forget Ronaldo - Ramos proves he is Madrid's ultimate big-game player with Clasico heroics

Sergio Ramos rescues a laboured Real Madrid and places a major trophy firmly within their grasp. Now where have we seen that before?

A defeat in Saturday's Clasico would have been far from disastrous but the centre-back's 90th-minute equaliser secured a 1-1 draw that keeps Madrid six points clear at the top of LaLiga and still unbeaten in the top flight this season.

For the third time in two years, in a pivotal match in which Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous, Ramos emerged as the saviour with a goal that seems more than likely to land Madrid a piece of silverware.

He might lose out to Ronaldo when the Ballon d'Or winner is announced in 10 days' time, but the captain's importance in securing trophies for his side cannot be overstated.

He scored the injury-time equaliser in the 2014 Champions League final to break Atletico Madrid hearts and help his side end their wait for La Decima. He made it 2-2 in the 93rd minute in Trondheim in August to send the UEFA Super Cup clash into extra-time, before Dani Carvajal hit the winner. Now he has a Clasico goal at Camp Nou to add to his collection - an emphatic header from Luka Modric's free-kick that keeps Madrid's lead at the top intact and leaves the title race firmly in their control.

'The miraculous trilogy of Superman Ramos' read one headline in Spain at the full-time whistle. Certainly, there are few who can claim to be a greater hero in the club's recent history.

The Camp Nou clash was a long way from vintage - Madrid enjoyed the better of the first half and were twice denied good chances on the break as Marc-Andre ter Stegen thwarted Ronaldo, while Lucas Vazquez probably should have won a penalty following a clumsy Javier Mascherano challenge.

Zinedine Zidane kept faith with the 4-2-3-1 formation that proved so strong in the derby win over Atletico and it rather cancelled out Luis Enrique's attacking 4-3-3. Chances were scarce, fouls were commonplace, and Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were forced further and further away from the attacking third. That the goals came from routine set-pieces summed up a match that was tactically intriguing but well short of its anticipated quality.

Key to Madrid was the work of Modric - his use of the ball helped them control the middle for the first hour, but his alacrity to protect the back four was far more crucial to Zidane's plans. Ramos is a fine player in possession and frequently starts Madrid's attacking moves from the back, but without a midfielder ready to fill the gaps whenever he surges forward from the back line to try to win the ball, Madrid are too often left exposed. Modric covered his team-mate on three such occasions in the first half alone.

Rather than inhibit that Ramos rashness, Zidane tried to channel it. It was no coincidence that he sent the centre-back forward as an auxiliary second striker in the closing stages, rather like Carlo Ancelotti did in that Champions League final two years ago.

On that day, the Spain defender met a Modric cross with a bullet header that levelled the scores at the end of 90 minutes. At Camp Nou on Saturday, he did exactly the same. And although, unlike in Lisbon, there is no immediate trophy for Madrid to celebrate, there is a good chance that his latest goal will be pivotal to them ending a four-year wait to win LaLiga.

"It was an intense game that we played to our limit – it's a reward for the good work we've been doing since the start of the season," Ramos said afterwards. "There's a long way to go, but it's better to rely on yourself rather than others."

When it comes to winning the biggest games, Madrid can certainly rely on their captain.

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Joe Wright