Raúl González turned in a starring performance, scoring two goals and teeing up Arjen Robben for a third as Juande Ramos got his Real Madrid CF reign off to an impressive start at home to FC Zenit St. Petersburg.
The new Madrid coach had called for focus and commitment ahead of Los Merengues' final UEFA Champions League Group H encounter and got just that as his charges dominated from the start. Raúl profited from a Vyacheslav Malafeev error to break the deadlock on 25 minutes but from then on the hosts did all the hard work themselves. The lively Robben doubled the advantage five minutes after the restart with an adroit chip and, soon after, Raúl sealed the victory in similar fashion. It was the cue to ease off as Ramos rang the changes and though Zenit twice hit the woodwork in the closing stages, it was too little, too late.
With Zenit guaranteed to finish third in Group H, the only thing to be determined on Matchday 6 was in which order the top two would finish – Madrid needed to win and hope Juventus lost at home to FC BATE Borisov to progress from pole position. The hosts certainly began with purpose, and were almost ahead inside the first minute when a poor Aleksandr Anyukov clearance fell kindly for Gonzalo Higuaín, but the striker could not get his shot away. He had no such problems soon after as he burst through the middle and, with the crowd urging him to try his luck, he duly obeyed, Malafeev tipping over the bar.
The local press have hailed the dawn of 'The Juande Era' in the 36 hours since Ramos's appointment, yet the first player to score under the new regime was an old favourite. Rafael van der Vaart's deep cross did not look threatening, but Malafeev fumbled and the ball fell kindly for Raúl, who had the easiest of finishes from point-blank range. The Zenit custodian soon set about making amends, twice denying Robben as white shirts surged forward.
There was no let-up in pressure after the restart either, and it was Robben who showed much of the menace. The winger drew a save from Malafeev and, from the subsequent corner, only the goalline intervention of Ivica Križanac prevented Raúl from turning home Fabio Cannavaro's header. Such dominance soon told as the tireless Robben received a pass from Raúl and dinked a lovely effort over Malafeev to make it 2-0. Seven minutes later the Dutchman returned the compliment, his pass finding Raúl with time and space inside the area and the Madrid captain outwitting the exposed Zenit keeper with another deft chip.
With an eye on Saturday's Liga meeting with FC Barcelona, Ramos took off Raúl and his team eased their relentless attacking. It allowed Zenit previously unknown freedom and Viktor Fayzulin and Danny both saw efforts cannon back off the crossbar late in the match. It was Madrid's night, however, even if Juventus's draw meant they had to settle for second in the section.