|First Division - Day 12|
Real Madrid 3 - Zaragoza 0
The match was postponed to 24th January as Madrid were playing the intercontinental cup in Tokyo.
Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Karanka (Munitis 77'), Roberto Carlos;
Figo, Iván Helguera, Makelele (Celades 63'), McManaman; Raúl,
Morientes (Guti 67'). 4-4-2.
Team changes: Madrid: Helguera, McManaman for Celades, Savio / Zaragoza: César, Aragón, Juanele, Jamelli for Rebosio, Acuña, Ferrón, Esnaider.
Real Madrid moved five points clear at the top of the division with this match which was postponed to Wednesday 24th January in view of Real Madrid's participation in the Intercontinental cup. The match closes the first half of the season, with all teams having played 19 games, and officially confirms Real Madrid as honorary winter champions. Del Bosque could count on his strongest starting line up (with the possible exception of the injured Geremi at right back), with Helguera returning from suspension and McManaman coming back on the left of midfield in place of Savio, who returned to a deluxe substitutes' bench which included a string of internationals. Zaragoza came in to the game undefeated in their last eleven league and cup matches, but the intense program has left them with a depleted squad, Esnaider and Rebosio failing late fitness tests and joining an injury list which includes Lainez, Pablo, Aguado, Sundgren, Toro Acuña and Garitano. As a result young B team defender César came back into the starting line up, with two more, Velasco and keeper Rubén, filling the places on the bench alongside Corona, Zaragoza's new on loan signing from Real Madrid B.
The first half was quite scrappy, with Madrid on top but unable to take advantage of their chances. McManaman shot wide early on and Juanmi had trouble with a Raúl header and then a Helguera shot close to half time. Zaragoza's only real attempt at goal was a Juanele free kick which Casillas saved comfortably. Salgado was creating problems, linking up with Figo down the right wing, and four minutes into the second half he managed to break the deadlock with a shot from outside of the area which took a slight deflection off Paco. It was his first goal for Real Madrid, and sent a message to his manager that he was back after being left out of the side for much of the season. Raúl added a second a few minutes later after combining with Macca and Makelele, and he kissed his wedding ring in celebration, as usual dedicating his goal to his wife Mamen. This time however it was more significant than ever, the couple having vehemently denied rumours which appeared in gossip columns a few days ago of a possible break up. With two goals in the bag Del Bosque decided to give some of his key players a rest, already thinking of their crucial clash next Sunday with Valencia. Celades and then Guti came on for Makelele and Morientes, with Corona making his first appearance for Zaragoza alongside Yordi, ironically fulfilling his dream of making his league debut in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, albeit on the other side.
As with the game against Oviedo though, the best was saved for last. Madrid were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, and Roberto Carlos stepped up to thump home his ninth goal of the season. The Brazilian's free kicks have been timed at over 120 kph, which only gives keepers a split second to react, and Juanmi said after the match that he didn't even see which side of the goal it went in to, despite the ball passing close to him as he dived. Munitis was given a run out near the end and he forced a good save out of Juanmi shortly after coming on, and Corona almost surprised Casillas in the last minute. But Madrid had sealed their ninth victory in ten matches, with some purists even claiming it counted as nine in a row, given that this was technically a day 12 match. It didn't matter much to real Madrid, they had opened up a big gap on their immediate rivals, and with no cup matches to bother about over the next few weeks they could virtually wrap up the title before the Champions League resumes in mid-February. They also got their revenge for last season's 1-5 drubbing which caused such unrest amongst the club's management a year ago. Zaragoza finally ended their undefeated run and they drop a place on goal average to twelfth, but they are now safely clear of the danger zone and can concentrate on consolidating their position in the league and trying to win the cup, with a quarter final tie against Racing Santander coming up next week. Or as purists would say, (this being a late November fixture), in a couple of months time.