Real Madrid's three kings might have wrapped up LaLiga before Christmas

By Sports Desk December 12, 2021

The calendar says Christmas is still two weeks away, but the festivities have begun for Real Madrid.

A comfortable, classy 2-0 Derbi victory over Atletico Madrid put them eight points clear at the top of LaLiga and stretched their winning run to 10 in all competitions.

Beating Atleti also not only ruined Diego Simeone's looming celebration of 10 years in charge, but it also meant Madrid have defeated each of the rest of LaLiga's top seven before they have even reached the halfway stage of the season.

By the time of the Three Kings celebrations across Spain in the first week of January, Madrid might already be planning their title parade in the spring, so comfortable does their advantage at the top appear. This is not the best Real Madrid, not even the best Carlo Ancelotti has coached, but right now, they are untouchable.

And they have their own Reyes Magos: a kingly trio that has carried the team from one victory to the next, and that looked positively regal at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Madrid are the first team in Europe's top five leagues this season with two players to score at least 10 league goals, and it was fitting – inevitable, perhaps – that they would combine to slap down a bold Atleti's early signs of promise.

Luka Modric – we'll come back to him – intercepted Koke's pass, Casemiro found Karim Benzema, and suddenly they were away. Vinicius Junior collected Marco Asensio's throughball, looked up, and played an inch-perfect cross.

Only one man from LaLiga has more assists than the Brazilian in all competitions this term, and it's the man who met his delivery on the volley with such supreme skill and precision. Benzema now has 36 goals in 2021, his best return in a calendar year, and three in four games against Atleti. A week away from his 34th birthday, he continues to define and defy the expectations of Real Madrid in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo years; the striker who made Ronaldo tick is the one who proves Madrid can tick without Ronaldo.

Still short of full fitness, Benzema was replaced at half-time, his decisive work done. On came Luka Jovic, who produced an expert piece of hold-up play to send Madrid on their way to their second goal, Vinicius again providing the cross for Marco Asensio. So often accused of never doing it, it feels like Vinicius has only ever played the right ball this season – he has seven assists for 2021-22 now, and is the only player to get two in a single Madrid derby in this century.

And then there's Modric. Of course there's Modric: 36 years old and still dictating derbies with beguiling authority. Two tackles, three interceptions, 35 passes in the Atletico half alone, he seemed a step ahead of every other player, dissipating across the pitch like a high-energy pulse on a wholly different wavelength to the rest. When he faced Joao Felix in his own box, casually stepped across the youngster and stole possession without crossing the touchline, the home fans sang more loudly than they had all evening.

 

It would also be remiss to ignore Thibaut Courtois' contribution. The Belgium goalkeeper is in the form of his life, saving all six shots on target faced here and 11 out of 11 in the past four home league derbies, giving Madrid four consecutive clean sheets in this fixture for the first time. But it's the majesty of Modric, Vinicius and Benzema that looks like continuing this remarkable run.

Madrid face Cadiz, Athletic Bilbao and Getafe before January 6; the hopes of their title challengers may have to be boxed up for another year if Madrid's three kings continue their regal form.

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