First Division - Day 17

Alavés 1 - Real Madrid 3

Alavés: Herrera; Geli, Karmona, Téllez, Ibon Begoña; Desio, Tomic (Djolonga 76'); Astudillo, Jordi Cruyff, Pablo (Magno 74'); Javi Moreno (Iván Alonso 76'). 4-2-3-1.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Geremi, Hierro, Karanka, Roberto Carlos; Figo, Iván Helguera, Makelele, Savio (Munitis 65'); Raúl (Celades 85'), Morientes (Guti 58'). 4-4-2.

Team changes: Alavés: Pablo for Contra / Madrid: Morientes for McManaman.

0-1. 13. Raúl. First time shot after Geremi pulled ball back from goal line.
1-1. 45. Téllez. Powerful header from back of area after corner from left.
1-2. 55. Karmona (own goal). Deflected Savio's cross past his own keeper.
1-3. 89. Guti. Took chipped pass from Munitis, controlled and beat Herrera.

A fourth away victory in a row kept Real Madrid just behind Valencia at the top of the table with a game in hand, and on this form they appear to be on line for another league championship. Up against the always difficult Alavés, they took charge of the game in the second half after the home side were reduced to ten men, running out in the end comfortable winners by a two goal margin. With Morientes now fit they were almost at full strength, the only absence from the first choice line up being Steve McManaman, who was nursing a muscle strain in his leg and who gave up his spot on the left of midfield to Savio. Flavio is out of the reckoning and will have to undergo an operation on a groin strain, and there was still no place in the starting line up for Guti, although the on-form midfielder-turned-striker came on in the second half and rounded things off with a calmly taken goal in the last minute, his eleventh of the season in all competitions. Mané only made one change to his starting eleven, Ibon Begoña dropping back to left back with the unenviable task of stopping Figo, Geli switching sides to cover for the suspended Contra, and Pablo coming in to Begoña's position on the left of midfield.

As usual it was a cold night in Vitoria, although the rain which fell in many parts of Spain held off here. Snow had fallen on nearby mount Gorbea, a fact which gave hope to the home fans as tradition dictates that Alavés win when that happens. However they were up against a Real Madrid who are playing together now as a team, and found themselves behind before a quarter of an hour was up, Geremi getting round Begoña down the right wing before laying the ball back for Raúl to score. Mané pushed his team forward though, and Hierro, back to his most inspired form, had to cut out a shot from Javi Moreno. Then just before the half time interval Téllez rose unmarked to power a header goalwards from Begoña's corner, and although Geremi got a foot to it, he could only help it into the roof of the net. Shortly after the break Tomic forced a good save out of Casillas, but then Begoña got himself booked twice in three minutes by Ansuategui Roca, the second for a totally unnecessary hand ball, and Alavés were down to ten men. Mané decided to leave things as they were, but two minutes later Savio got free on the left, and his cross was deflected by Karmona past his own keeper.

For a few minutes longer the Vitoria side kept up their hopes, Moreno stopping a ball on the by-line and testing Casillas with a curling shot from a wide angle, but Jordi Cruyff somehow failed to connect with the rebound as it fell in front of goal and Madrid were off the hook. A minute later the play switched to the other end, and after Herrera and Karmona kept out consecutive shots from Raúl and Figo, Téllez cleared an overhead kick by Raúl off the line. Guti and then Munitis came on for a half-asleep Morientes and for Savio, and if anything Madrid's game improved, with Herrera making a great save from a Hierro free kick before Guti finally made it three. There was a small sting in the tail from the home side, with Casillas stopping shots from Magno and Cruyff, but it was too little too late, and Alavés fell to their third home defeat, still holding on to seventh place but losing ground on the leaders. The home fans showed their disapproval, especially after club president Gonzalo Antón had decided to make this a 'club day', which in Spain means that season ticket holders have to pay twice. They have become accustomed to seeing their team perform better, but after beating Deportivo in their last home match, they have now lost two in a row, albeit to the Barcelona and Real Madrid. Madrid though go from strength to strength, and their run of seven wins in a row is their best performance since Radomir Antic's days in charge in the 1991/2 season. Next week they play Antic's Oviedo at home, hoping to make it eight, still a far cry from the 15 they achieved in 1961, but enough to make the other teams sit up and pay attention. Real Madrid are back.