Thursday, 31 December 2015

Benitez Unbeaten and Unbowed

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Rafael Benítez praised Cristiano Ronaldo for carrying Real Madrid “on his back” after the forward scored twice in a scrappy win over Real Sociedad that helped ease the pressure on his manager.

Ronaldo opened the scoring from the spot shortly before half-time having skied a penalty earlier in the half. Bruma levelled just after the break, but Ronaldo put the hosts back in front with an impressive swivelled volley to make it 57 goals in 57 games in 2015. The Madrid substitute Lucas Vázquez sealed the points late on, arriving in the box to control a Gareth Bale cross and finish neatly.

“I have congratulated Cristiano and everyone else because they all united today,” said Benítez. “He took responsibility after missing the penalty and carried the team on his back.”

Madrid went into the game having scored 22 goals in their past three games after thrashing Getafe 4-1, Malmo 8-0 and Rayo Vallecano 10-2. Yet reports that Benítez’s job was at risk gathered pace over the Christmas period, and in his pre-game conference the former Liverpool and Chelsea manager denounced the stories, talking of a “campaign” against him, the club and the president Florentino Pérez

After the latest victory Benítez rejected suggestions he could have lost his job had the Basques not been beaten.

“I don’t feel that’s the case, I’m now focusing on the next game,” he said. “Madrid controlled the game apart from for 10 minutes. We had chances but we didn’t take them and then the team reacted [to Sociedad’s equaliser] phenomenally. I can only congratulate the players as this means we can look forward.”

Benítez also insisted he was unmoved when fans in the Bernabéu booed his name when it was read out before kick-off and again when he brought off James Rodríguez for Mateo Kovacic. “It’s my responsibility to get the best out of the players we have on the bench, they all did a good job and their fresh legs helped us,” he said. “We’re happy when we win and that’s all we want, to win games and win trophies. We’re going in the right direction.”

Vázquez played down the significance of the booing. “The crowd have the right to applaud and to boo us,” said the 24-year-old. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and keep winning games.” 

The Madrid director Emilio Butragueño reaffirmed the club’s belief in Benítez, insisting their faith in the Spaniard was “absolute”. 

But Eusebio Sacristán, the Sociedad coach, was left lamenting three penalty decisions which did not go his side’s way. “I don’t know if that’s down to coincidence or bad luck,” he said. “But it has happened before with this referee and it’s a real shame.”

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