Mon, Jan 27, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Real coach full of praise after record-breaking opening

AFP, MADRID

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti reacts during their game against Granada at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed his side’s start to the year after they recorded a seventh-straight win without conceding a goal for the first time in the club’s 112-year history.

A 2-0 win over Granada thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday also moved Los Blancos clear at the top of La Liga for the first time since May 2012.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were set to play Malaga and Rayo Vallecano respectively yesterday and could both overtake Real with victories.

However, Ancelotti believes his side has finally struck the balance between attack and defense that he has been searching for since his arrival at the club in July last year.

“It is very good to have a record like that. I want to thank all the players because, as I have said before, the team is very focused right now and we are winning the ball back a lot quicker,” Ancelotti said. “In 2014, the work of everyone has been almost perfect to obtain the record that we have.”

One of the major reasons for Real’s upturn of late has been the superb form of Luka Modric.

The Croatian was once again a driving force in the midfield against Granada, and Ancelotti believes he is growing in stature in his second season in the Spanish capital.

“Modric’s biggest quality in the penetration of his passing. At the start of the season he was maybe lacking a little bit in the personality he showed on the pitch,” Ancelotti said. “Now he is showing more personality and is able to change the tempo of a game.”

It was not such a good afternoon for Modric’s former Tottenham Hotspur teammate Gareth Bale, as he had to be withdrawn at half-time after being on the end of a heavy challenge from Jeison Murillo early on.

However, Ancelotti shrugged off fears the Welshman could be sidelined for any significant period of time by saying he expects him to be fit for tomorrow’s Copa del Rey quarter-final, second leg against Espanyol at the Bernabeu.

Madrid go into that match already leading 1-0 from the first leg, and midfielder Xabi Alonso wants to keep their momentum going as their challenge for trophies on three fronts continues.

“There is a long way to go, but we have made up a lot of points and we need to continue in this manner,” he told Spanish TV station Canal Plus. “We are playing very well, but we can still do better and we need to keep improving and progressing.”

In other games, Valladolid downed Villarreal 1-0; Valencia drew with Espanyol 2-2 and Sevilla went down at Levante 2-3.

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