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Madrid excelling, even without Ronaldo

- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

MADRID (AP) - No Cristiano Ronaldo? No problem.

Real Madrid's title ambitions continue to gain credence, with the Spanish giant showing no dip despite missing the Ballon d'Or winner.

Ronaldo has one more league game to serve from a three-match ban, and cannot return before next week's Champions League game at Schalke.

No matter, as Madrid stretched its unbeaten run to 25 games in all competitions with a comprehensive 3-0 victory at Getafe on Sunday.

With and without Ronaldo, Madrid under coach Carlo Ancelotti has looked the more consistent, well-balanced team following a poor start to the campaign, with co-Spanish leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid enduring erratic runs of late.

Gareth Bale has excelled when not nagged by injuries, while players like Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Jese Rodriguez have been standouts.

"I think the key to our success is that the team is unified," fullback Dani Carvajal said on Monday. "Everyone is contributing to the smallest detail, whether they are playing little or a lot."

Jese has scored in five of his last six games, and has been slotted instantly into the attack whenever Ronaldo or Bale have been out. Spanish media are already touting the Spain Under-21 standout for a place in world champion Spain's squad despite the rich attacking talent that includes Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente, Diego Costa, and Fernando Torres.

"I'm not surprised by his play because he's playing great matches and scoring," Ancelotti said. "We've already said a lot of good things about him, I just hope he keeps up like this."

Ancelotti's arrival has been a major boost for Madrid following the bitter exit of Jose Mourinho, who left following his worst season as a coach when the Portuguese manager had more success in creating divisions within his own club than his opponent's schemes.

Ancelotti has brought order to one of the world's most expensive and talented stock of players and egos, perhaps better than any other Madrid coach since Vicente del Bosque.

Former Madrid coach Fabio Capello thought Madrid could win the treble this season.

"Despite all of those previous problems, Carlo sought to impose calm and he has brought the team around to how it should be. The team is getting better with every game," Capello said in a recent interview with Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"In Madrid, the pressure is so intense you don't get time to breath," added Capello, who knows from experience after twice being fired by Madrid after leading it to league titles.

Ancelotti has stuck with goalkeeper Diego Lopez over Iker Casillas, who has assumed Champions League and Copa del Rey duties. That seems to have squashed the controversy as Madrid reached the domestic cup final without Casillas conceding a single goal.

"I've got two great goalkeepers, so I don't know if the situation is fair or not," the Italian coach said, "but it's been a good means to motivating them both."

While Ronaldo will miss Saturday's match against Elche, his teammates will be looking forward to his return regardless of their run.

"He's a player that should always be in the lineup," Lopez said. "We're lucky that we have other players who can step in but you always note the absence of a player of Cristiano's quality."

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