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Manu Fernandez Real Madrid's Federico Valverde, left, celebrates his goal with Toni Kroos.
# mind the gap
Madrid turn on the style to beat Sevilla and increase Liga lead
Carlo Ancelotti’s unbeaten side moved six points clear of rivals Barcelona, who host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

JUST WHEN IT seemed Real Madrid might consider dropping points in the title race, the champions calmly moved up a gear to secure a 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday and extend their La Liga lead.

Carlo Ancelotti’s unbeaten side moved six points clear of rivals Barcelona, who host Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, thanks to two strikes in three minutes from Lucas Vazquez and Fede Valverde in the final stages.

Sevilla thought they might take something from the game when Erik Lamela’s leveller cancelled out Luka Modric’s early strike, but Madrid confidently wrestled control of the match back.

Vinicius Junior, through on goal in the 79th minute, unselfishly squared for Vazquez to roll the ball home and then Valverde continued his own sublime form with a rocket which left Sevilla goalkeeper Bono scrambling helplessly.

It was a rip-roaring finale to a fine night for Madrid supporters. Karim Benzema had offered the Ballon d’Or he won on Monday to the masses at the Santiago Bernabeu before kick-off, handed his trophy by former winners Modric and Zinedine Zidane.

Fans brandished gold sheets laid out for them by the club.

Although they were not able to watch the French striker here, with a thigh problem keeping him out, their team maintained their momentum.

It took Real Madrid just five minutes to open the scoring.

Vinicius was the architect, picking the pocket of Gonzalo Montiel, driving forward deep into the area and then sliding a perfect pass across to split the defence and leave Modric with a simple finish on his 450th appearance for the club.

The Brazilian winger finished eighth in the Ballon d’Or vote, disappointing some Madrid fans, but Ancelotti urged him to use it as encouragement to strive for more this season.

Returning from a sciatica problem, Thibaut Courtois also presented his Yashin Trophy for being the world’s best goalkeeper to supporters, which was his only task of note until the second half. He soon had another – picking the ball out of the back of the net.

Erik Lamela finished well after being set-up by Montiel, who stole the ball from Vinicius in a reverse of the opening goal.

- Stepping up a gear -
Former Madrid playmaker Isco fired into the side netting as Jorge Sampaoli’s side attacked the second half with more gumption.

Ancelotti responded by replacing Aurelien Tchouameni with Eduardo Camavinga, and Madrid picked up again.

Rodrygo, operating at false nine in place of Benzema, produced a piece of magic with a backheel to find Vinicius, who shot into the side-netting from a tight angle after hurtling past Bono to reach the pass.

Sevilla were on the back foot and the next time Vinicius burst through, running on to Marco Asensio’s pass, he earned his second assist of the night, and then Valverde sealed the win in spectacular fashion.

“The first half we had under control, maybe we had to score a second goal to be calmer,” Courtois told Movistar.

“Later we woke up and scored two great goals against a strong opponent.”

The only worry for Madrid was Uruguayan midfielder Valverde, who has seven goals this season across all competitions, taking a blow to the knee and hobbling away at the end.

It was Sevilla’s first defeat since Sampaoli took over, leaving them 14th.

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“I think the team made a great effort at a very difficult place to come,” said Sampaoli.

“We had to control the game, it could generate a game going back-and-forth, and Madrid are the best at that.”

Elsewhere Real Valladolid earned a 1-0 win over high-flying Real Sociedad, ending the visitors’ run of eight straight victories.

The Basques had two goals disallowed and numerous chances to find an equaliser after Sergio Leon’s opener in the 16th minute.

Real Sociedad stay provisionally third, although Atletico Madrid or Real Betis could overtake them when they face each other on Sunday.

Real Mallorca earned a surprise 2-1 win at Valencia, thanks to a late goal from Kang-in Lee, against his former side.

Rayo Vallecano thrashed Cadiz 5-1, with the visitors, 19th, having both Iza Carcelen and Ruben Alcaraz sent off.

– © AFP 2022

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