Whenever an international break comes about for Real Madrid, it is truly a test of the team's depth and the manager's savvy. That is because when you go out and bring in the world's best year in and year out, every break 90% if not 100% of your team will be sent out on internaitonal duty, even your bench.
It especially does not help your team regain or maintain fitness or stave off fatigue when your first match back in the cross-city derby and 72 hours later you have a Champions League match that could secure your passage to the knockout stages.
Such is life for Madrid though, and they came out aces. First challenge was dispensing of their rivals Atlético Madrid at their home stadium, the Vicente Calderon. Turns out all they needed was Cristiano Ronaldo, as Ronaldo notched himself a hat-trick to seal the 3-0 win for Real.
The win kept Madrid on top of the La Liga table, and gave them another two points in their lead over second-place Barcelona, after the Catalans' draw at home against Málaga.
With his 39th career hat-trick, the three goals against Atleti took him past Madridista legend Alfredo Di Stefano in the all-time goal tally in the Madrid derby fixture. With his three Saturday, Ronaldo now has 18 against De Stefano's 17.
It seemed the good times for the Portuguese would continue as Real and Ronaldo would be returning to his home country to play his former club, Sporting Lisbon. Sporting gave Ronaldo a hero's welcome, with a video montage of Ronaldo's career at Sporting and his triumph with Portugal at Euro 2016.
However the positive vibes did not translate onto the pitch, as Ronaldo was fairly pedestrian in this return to Lisbon.
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane threw out bascially the same lineup he used to defeat Atlético, except with one change that proved to be crucial with captain Sergio Ramos returning to man the backline alongside Rafa Varane.
Varane opened the scoring, reacting of a failed clearance in the area after a Luka Modric spot kick. Later, Sporting had tied the match even with only 10 men. Joao Periera had been sent off for what looked like punching Mateo Kovacic (though it looked like there was a heavy bit of acting).
Ramos delivered the cross that enable Karim Benzema - who came on for Isco - to head home the winning goal with only six minutes remaining, securing Real's passage to the knockout stages. Now they have a date with Borussia Dortmund to determine who comes out on top of the group and into the round of 16.
Image via: Flickr