x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Higuain at the double

The Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain rescued 10-man Real Madrid as they beat neighbours Getafe 2-0 at the Bernabeu on Saturday to ease the pressure on coach Manuel Pellegrini.

Real Madrid's Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain, left, scores his first goal against Getafe in the 2-0 victory at the Bernabeu  on Saturday night.
Real Madrid's Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain, left, scores his first goal against Getafe in the 2-0 victory at the Bernabeu on Saturday night.

The Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain rescued 10-man Real Madrid as they beat neighbours Getafe 2-0 at the Bernabeu on Saturday to ease the pressure on coach Manuel Pellegrini. Higuain was Real's best performer and scored after Raul Albiol had been sent off in the 27th minute for shirt pulling. Although frustrated by the red card, Pellegrini is an astute tactician and he shifted his formation - though it did not stop Getafe dominating until half-time.

"We knew it would be hard for us to change our style," admitted the Chilean coach. "I don't like teams who counterattack and I wanted to change that. It's hard with new players and a new coaching staff. We are finding it difficult at times and it will continue to be this way, but we haven't conceded a single goal in six of our nine games and that's very positive." Real were revitalised in the second period and received support when they needed it. The Bernabeu can be a feckless and cynical arena where genius is applauded, but players admonished they do not deliver. Fans booed their team in the first half, but facing another game without victory, the 79,000 home crowd saw their rousings rewarded in the 54th minute as Higuain chested a superb cross from Marcelo before shooting past goalkeeper Ustari.

The 21-year-old striker - who had feared for his position with the arrival of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema - again kept his composure to beat Ustari in a one-on-one three minutes later to make it two. Higuain's partnership with Marcelo and Kaka looked particularly fruitful and he came close to scoring a hat-trick, his shot striking a post before he received a deserved standing ovation when replaced by Raul in the 78th minute.

"Higuain's situation on the team has always been very good," said Pellegrini. "He couldn't play before because he's been injured. He is as important as Benzema. He's always been very involved and he is gradually doing better. He is essential to us and he will stand out." "We had great spirit from the start and I liked my team's spirit above anything else. Personal and collective performances may vary, but spirit is constant."

Real's sporting director Jorge Valdano added: "It has been a difficult week and we had to fall back on our pride. The team did well to overcome their early nerves and a tough sending off. With so many apocalyptic commentaries around our message was to respond on the pitch and the players have understood this perfectly." Despite the negativity surrounding Real from their cup defeats to Milan and third level Alcorcon, it was their fifth consecutive home league win and kept them in second behind leaders Barcelona.

Real's cause was aided by Gerard Pique's 92nd-minute own goal for the Catalans, which earned hosts Osasuna a 1-1 draw. Barca had taken the lead with a 71st-minute goal from Seydou Keita, the Malian's sixth league goal of the season. Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both came close to wrapping up the points for Barca, but not as close as Pique at the other end as he tried to cut out a Camunas cross but instead steered it past Victor Valdes. "We lost two points, because we controlled the game," said a disappointed Andres Iniesta. "It leaves a bittersweet taste."

amitten@thenational.ae