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Real Madrid 2-0 Levante: Blancos Trim the Gap

Real Madrid trainer José Mourinho celebrated the ninth consecutive year of his record of being unbeaten at home in league matches, stretching all the way back to the beginning of his time at Porto in 2002, with a characteristically pragmatic 2-0 throttling of Levante.  Despite coming off of a three-game win streak, the first in the club's history, including last week's superb 1-0 away victory over high-flying Villarreal, Levante were unable to put up much of a fight against a dominant Real Madrid team that rested a number of key starters for the key midweek Champions League Round of 16 match against OL.

It took Madrid only seven minutes to open up the scoring, with Karim Benzema, afforded a start over new signing Adebayor, scoring a crucial confidence-boosting goal ahead of the midweek fixture against his hometown club.  While Benzema did extremely well to be in the proper position to tap in, much of the credit should go to an unbelievable piece of individual skill by Angel di María.  Had Lionel Messi performed this trick it would be international news, but sadly little Angelito is not quite as much of a media darling as of yet.  Despite Levante playing five at the back, with Angelito triple marked, the young Argentine shimmied his way past three defenders before cutting a perfect square ball across the six-yard box to the waiting Benzema, who thundered his low shot just inside the far post.

Levante found themselves unable to park the bus, but were unwilling to commit too many men forward at the risk of being embarrassed as they were earlier this year in the Copa del Rey, when they slumped to an ignominious 8-0 defeat at the Bernabéu.  Madrid's slightly unorthodox double pivot, consisting of Lass and Khedira, with Xabi Alonso given a rest, was extremely effective at dominating the center of the pitch, breaking up potential Levante attacks and recycling possession.  Lass showed both the tremendous energy and tenacity that led to his being nicknamed 'the Atomic Ant' and a solid passing range and drive in attack, while Khedira once again impressed with his superb positional play.

Madrid had several more chances before the break, with a particular highlight being a thundering drive by Angelito which was saved by the goalkeeper, but they did not extend their lead until the 41st minute, when Ronaldo's free kick from next to the left corner flag was redirected into the net by the outstretched leg of his compatriot, defender Ricardo Carvalho.

In the second half, the game slowed considerably.  Substitute keeper Antonio Adan, making his starting league debut, was virtually a spectator.  One had the feeling that when Marcelo passed the ball back to him from the center circle he was being charitable and letting Adan have a touch, or perhaps making sure he was still awake.  In the 92nd minute, Adebayor had a goal ruled out for offside after an outstanding run by Özil, who had just entered the game, replacing the largely ineffectual Kaká.  Ronaldo, the current Pichichi, was left frustrated by his inability to get on the scoresheet, particularly annoyed by an (incorrect) offside decision by the linesman when he was played one-on-one with the goalkeeper earlier in the game.

Real Madrid are currently just two points behind league leaders Barcelona (boo! hiss!) as the Evil Empire head into their clash with bogie team Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou.  When the sides met earlier this year in the Copa del Rey, Los Leones were able to stymie Barça home and away, with Barcelona only progressing due to the away goal scored in a 1-1 draw at San Mames.  Should Bilbao do us the kindness of taking two (or, unlikely as this may be, three) points off of our hated foes, we would potentially go into the Clásico knowing that a win would either secure us the title (if Bilbao win) or put us level on points with them but not head-to-head/goal differential.

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