James Rodríguez took full advantage of a rare starting opportunity, helping fire Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory over a disappointing Sevilla in the Copa del Rey last 16 1st leg.
The Colombian midfielder, linked with a move away from the Spanish capital in the January transfer window, had a point to prove and made it emphatically with a sterling performance, capped by a brace of goals.
James proves point
James needed just 10 minutes to make his mark, curling home beautifully from the edge of the box after good pressure from Casemiro.
Madrid made their dominance count further on the half hour when centre-back Raphael Varane headed home unmarked from a corner.
Chances via Morata and a spectacular attempt from Modric could have extended Madrid's advantage further, while Iborra missed an open goal at the other for the visiting team, who's attacking threats were few and far between.
Fantastic 1st half performance
Los Blancos would have to wait until just before half time to see their fabulous first-half performance fully rewarded, when they handed a penalty after a push by Mariano on Modric.
With regular penalty taker Cristiano Ronaldo absent, James stepped up to take the resultant spot kick, coolly slotting home after a stuttered run up.
The fast-tempo and bags of chances dramatically fizzled out in the second half as Real Madrid were happy to sit on their comfortable lead, while Sevilla were seemingly reluctant to throw men forward and risk facing an even bigger mountain to climb in the 2nd leg by giving away another.
The highlight after the break was the standing ovation for James after he made way for Danilo on 78 minutes. A point well proved, indeed.
As it happened:
Full-time: Real Madrid 3-0 Sevilla
90 mins | Three minutes added.
87 mins | Real Madrid just happy to see this out to the end now. Sevilla not exactly throwing men forward. Perhaps they feel a three goal deficit isn't unassailable in the 2nd leg at home. Give away another one though and it might just be.
84 mins | Danilo is played in by a sumptuous ball from Casemiro. The Brazilian takes the shot on early on the left edge of the box but it's easy again for Rico.
82 mins | Sub: Morata now goes for a rest, giving Mariano a go. He gets a shot in with his very first touch too! But it's straight at Rico.
81 mins | Sub: Correa off. Ben Yedder on.
78 mins | Sub: Standing ovation for James as he is replaced by Danilo.
75 mins | Morata's headed clearance from a Sevilla corner falls to Escudero on the edge of the box. The balls sits up and he fizzes a left-foot volley towards the top corner. His shot has a little too much spin though and it catches the side netting as it sails just wide of the upright.
72 mins | That first half was always going to be hard to follow, wasn't it? There were a great number of chances for both sides in the opening 45, but we've had very little goal-mouth action after the break. The only occasion which springs to mind was Morata's opportunity in the opening minutes.
70 mins | Isco trying to probe a way through. He looks lively after coming on. Much like James, he has a point to prove tonight, but has been given much less time in which to do it.
66 mins | Sub: Asensio makes way for Isco.
61 mins | Sevilla with a penalty appeal as Varane and Vitolo tussle in the area. Vitolo goes down and the ref takes a good look, finally waving play on. Replays show he was right to do so, as Varane took the ball.
58 mins | Sub: Kranevitter comes on for Iborra .
58 mins | Hang on, there goes that lapse of concentration again. Correa races on to a through ball played in behind the Madrid defence and he wins the race against Varane. Casilla though comes to the rescue, rushing out and smashing the ball into the stand before Correa can get a toe on it.
54 mins | There are huge gaps all over the field here which are just calling out to be exploited by Madrid. No killer ball yet, but Sevilla seem happy on gifting the home side time and space.
51 mins | Has a feel of a bit of an exhibition match at the moment. Madrid are uber-comfortable, playing it around, and enjoying themselves. Sevilla look to have lost any semblance of shape. They're really not at the races.
48 mins | In an almost mirror image of the 1st half, Morata shoots wide unmarked from six yards from Madrid's first attack. He had time to control that, do his shopping, call his mother, and then pick his spot. Instead, he panicks and it rolls out feebly off the bottom of his studs after he swings and misses! Not Alvaro's finsest moment that.
45 mins | Peeeeeep! We're back underway
Half Time: Real Madrid 3-0 Sevilla
Zidane's men well worth their three goals, and it could have been more if it wasn't for a couple of great Sergio Rico saves. That said, Sevilla have missed a couple of clear cut chances, notably Iborra failing to adjust his feet with an open goal at his mercy. Sevilla attacks have been few and far between however and it's been Los Blancos with all the pressure. I said earlier in the half that this could be Real Madrid's best start to a game this season. I stand by that. In fact, that could be their best 45 minutes of the campaign. Totally in control bar a couple of lapses in focus which left their opponents in. They'll have to watch their concentration in the 2nd half, but any repeat of the performance we've just seen after the break and Sevilla could be on the end of a real stuffing.
45 mins | HALF TIME.
44 mins | Gooooooal! James slides home his second from the spot after a stuttered run up. Game over before half time? You'd probably say so.
43 mins | Penalty Madrid! Mariano with a blatant push on Modric. He gets a yellow for his troubles and James has a chance to make it three...
42 mins | Double yellow card! Marcelo and Nacho both go into the book for arguing that Vitolo was offside. Ref is not allowing anyone to question his authority tonight. Good for him!
41 mins | Vitolo played in down the left and he's all alone. He's one on one with Casilla but seems caught in two minds, ending up trying to feebly lift it over the keeper. He fails, rather embarrassingly. What was I saying about Madrid and switching off?
39 mins | The tempo's died down slightly after that 2nd goal. Real Madrid will have to make sure they keep their focus in the final five of this half after being so dominant.
33 mins | Iborra! How has he missed that? Correa is played clean through, Casilla blocks his shot, and it falls right into Iborra's path. It comes at him quickly and he can't adjust his feet in time with an open goal at his mercy. It bobbles of his shin and goes wide when he really should have scored. Let off for Madrid.
30 mins | And it's so very nearly three! Morata squirms and sidesteps and finds a clear shot on goal from 8 yards. He doesn't connect well though and Rico gets a hand to it. Sevilla hanging by a thread.
29 mins | Goooooooal! Varane heads it in unmarked from Toni Kroos' in-swinging corner. Very slack from Sevilla, he was all alone. You have to say Madrid are well worth this though.
28 mins | Marcelo with a vicious left foot volley! It's straight at Sergio Rico though adn beaten out for a corner....
25 mins | Yellow Card: Another one goes into the book. This time Ganso for a heavy challenge on Nacho.
23 mins | Yellow Card: Iborra goes into the book for protesting too much to the ref. He wanted a penalty after going down (very easily) as Sevilla's corner was floated in. The ref, and rightly so, was having none of it.
21 mins | Sevilla trying to get a foothold in this with a spell of possession of their own. And some tidy play results in a corner...
18 mins | It's all Madrid so far. This could well be their best start to a game this season, and against a very strong Sevilla XI too.
15 mins | Modric does his best Nacho impression (a la Cultural Leonesa in the 1st Round) with a spectacular scissor kick after a lofted pullback from Carvajal. It's very almost in, but creeps agonisingly past the post. That would have been a ridiculous finish. Real Madrid really looking in the mood...
13 mins | Sevilla straight away look for a reply. Correa takes it to the byline and teases the ball across, but there's no one there.
10 mins | Gooooooool! James with a pearler! Good work from Casemiro sees him dispossess Sevilla's defence. The ball breaks to James 20 yards out and he bends it deliciously into the the bottom corner. That's a statement from Rodríguez if I ever saw one! "I'm still here".
7 mins | This is very open at the moment, seems to be lots of space out there, and both teams look to have good attacking intent. Real Madrid controlling the early exchanges, though.
4 mins | Woof! Now it's Sevilla's turn to go close. Correa jigs into the box from the right and sends a deflected shot just wide of Casilla's upright. The corner comes to nothing. Good start to this match...
2 mins | Close! Morata is just millimetres away from opening the scoring with the first attack of the game. Modric's cross finds him unmarked and he skews it wide from 6 yards. The offside flag spares his blushes, however.
0 mins | Peeeeeeep! Here we go...
Real Madrid: Kiko; Carvajal, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric; James Rodríguez, Marco Asensio, Morata.
21:10 | Marcelo, captain for the night, leads Los Blancos out. The players line up and shake hands. We're almost ready for battle. Hold tight.
21:05 | 10 minutes till kickoff! The Santiago Bernabéu has filled up nicely (it's a sell out), and the players are preparing to come out.
21:00 | Madrid and Sevilla are certainly making up for the five month gap without running into each other, however (see previous post). They'll be facing off three times in the next 11 days!
20:50 | Although we're now into January, this is the first meeting between Real Madrid and Sevilla this season. We all remember what happened last time the two sides met, though, don't we? Let's hope we're in store for another cracker along those lines.
20:50 | The evening's other Copa del Rey 1st leg ties have just finished, and Real Sociedad have beaten Villarreal 3-1 in Anoeta. Alcorcon and Cordoba, meanwhile, battled out a 0-0 draw in extremely foggy conditions.
20:45 | Away from the game for a moment, but no less topical being the time of year it is: UEFA announced today its list of the top 10 January transfers in the window's history. There's one Real Madrid signing amonst them...
20:40 | Here's our report on the starting lineups, including the news of the unexpected absence of Karim Benzema.
20:35 | Talking of betting, Madrid are favourites to win this Copa del Rey Last 16 first leg at 19/20, while you can get Sevilla at 5/2. A draw? 11/4.
20:30 | Today marks exactly a year since Zinedine Zidane was announced coach of Real Madrid; a year in which he has brought both success and harmony to the club. Can he celebrate his anniversary with a win tonight? You wouldn't bet against him, would you.
20:15 | Sevilla have also now named their starting XI, and they are more or less at full strength (see above). Who said clubs don't take domestic cup competitions seriously anymore?
20:05 | Real Madrid have announced their lineup, and its a strong looking side (see above). Big chance tonight then for James, Morata and Asensio, you feel, who all start.
19:40 | A reminder that Madrid's LaLiga title rivals Barcelona travel to Bilbao tomorrow night in the Cup (a game we'll also be bringing you live). Coach Luis Enrique insisted in his press conference earlier today that the MSN are ready and fit to play, despite their extended xmas break.
19:15 | Weather watch: We're in for a chilly night at the Bernabéu. It'll be a cool and crisp 6 degrees Celsius by kickoff, but with clear skies. Is that past the acceptable low temperature for wearing gloves? What about a snood? A snood is never really acceptable, is it?
18:40 | Sevilla have been active in the transfer market today, confirming the sale of central defender Timothée Kolodziejczak to Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach, and agreeing a deal with Kolodziejczak's fellow Frenchman Clement Lenglet from Nancy. The defender is set to sign a four-and-a-half-year contract.
17:39 | Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Ronaldo out of tonight's game against Sevilla. Pepe and Sergio Ramos for injuries and Ronaldo is being rested.
17:05 | If you were wondering what way Sampaoli wants his side to play at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight, he was pretty clear about it in his pre-match press conference the day before the game. He wants to dominate possession.
16:50 | He won't be available tonight but Sevilla have signed Clement Langlet from Nancy on a four and a half year deal. A favourite of Monchi, who has been monitoring him for years. Does anyone else think Sevilla are going to be unbelievable in 2017 as Sampaoli tailors his squad?
16:48 | Juventus CEO says Morata has a sentimental connection to Juventus, stoking the fire that started when a report suggested the Real Madrid striker wants to move back to Italy.
16:43 | Didier Deschamps recently was voted the most influential person in French football ahead of Zinedine Zidane and Antoine Griezmann. The French manager had his say on Zidane and says he is doing a really good job at Real Madrid and he is delighted for his former teammate and friend.
16:39 | The transfer news is coming at us at pace here, much like a Ronaldo free-kick slicing through the air on it's way to the wall. The first piece of business is 'Operation Aubameyang' - it could be derailed as a Chinese club have offered €150 million
Despite bring without a clutch of their first team regulars, Real Madrid go into tonight's match as the bookies' favourites to secure a first leg advantage. August's UEFA Super Cup final was a close affair and settled in extra-time by ex-Sevillista, Sergio Ramos but Madrid will be without their captain this evening. The two clubs have met several times in previous editions of the Cup - most recently in the 2010/11 tournament when Madrid beat the southerners home and away in the semi-final; that year they would go on to lift the trophy for the first time in 18 years.
Madrid sauntered into the Last 16 with a 13-2 aggregate win over Cultural Leonesa. And curiously, Sevilla's Cup run has been equally as productive - they progressed with a similar scoreline, thrashing Formentera 14-2 on aggregate.
Injury has ruled out Sergio Ramos, who joins Gareth Bale, Lucas Vázquez and Mateo Kovacic on the sidelines. Zidane will also be without centre-back Pepe, who has suffered a Grade II calf muscle injury and is expected to be out until February. Kiko Casilla will get another run-out to give Keylor Navas a rest while Álvaro Morata could partber Karim Benzema up front.
Visiting coach Jorge Sampaoli won't be rotating his goalkeepers and Sergio Rico, his regular keeper in the league, will continue between the sticks in the Cup. Franco Vázquez is unavailable as he still must serve the last part of a three-match ban picked up in last season's Coppa Italia. Also set to miss tonight's game is centre-back Daniel Carriço, who underwent an operation to remove bone fragments from his right ankle a couple of weeks ago and is still recovering. There are seven changes to the squad who faced Formentera in the last round - Sirigu, Nico Pareja, Mariano, Escudero, Nzonzi, Nasri and Vitolo all return.