Real Madrid CF is learning to survive even without the presence of captain Sergio Ramos. The defender was rested in last night's La Liga Santander clash against Celta Vigo, in what is being deemed as a precaution to make sure that he remains available for the upcoming UEFA Champions League quarter-finals against Liverpool.

Ramos made it back to play against Atalanta and help Real Madrid get through to the UCL quarters. However, the Spanish La Liga title is still very much available, and Zinedine Zidane has the tough challenge of making sure that he uses his captain in the most efficient way possible now that he is still in a precarious recovery period following a knee surgery in February.

Luckily, the rest of the squad has been stepping up. French striker Karim Benzema wore the captain's armband on Saturday, and scored for the reigning champions for a sixth consecutive game. He opened up the scoreboard with a brilliant strike in the 20th minute, and doubled the lead just ten minutes later. Both goals came from superb assists by Toni Kroos.

Santi Mina pulled one back for Celta just before the half, which gave them momentum to start the second half with more aggression. Real Madrid started to look tired but their defence held firm even without the presence of Ramos.

Celta failed to find the equaliser before Marco Asensio scored a late goal for Real Madrid. He has excelled in the past few matches, proving that it is possible to come back better and stronger after a lengthy injury.

The victory has put Real Madrid ahead of FC Barcelona at least for the time being, as the result of the Catalans' match against Real Sociedad is still pending. The defending champions are also just three points behind leaders Atletico Madrid at the moment, who will no doubt be feeling the pressure on their way to face Alaves.

There are nine games to go before the end of the season, and the battle at the top is indeed heating up.

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema scored his 23rd goal of the season as Real Madrid beat Alaves 2-0 on Friday. AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS