Real Madrid visited the Sánchez Pizjuán today only to give away the lead in the first minute of play from a set piece and to see hosts Sevilla manage to keep it for the remaining 88 minutes of regulation time.
José Mourinho, after the match:
I don’t care about the point lead [of Barcelona]. It is not my problem. My problem is that I do not have a team.
It was an ill-tempered, badly officiated match, that kicked off at 10 pm in a region of Spain where temperatures were still hitting the high 30s only this afternoon. There were handbags within 5 minutes of playing time, with Gonzalo Higuain reacting badly to a challenge by lashing out and with Iker Casillas having to run out of his goal-mouth to help calm him down.
Sevilla’s lead came off a number of excellent plays, all in quick succession, which seemed nearly choreographed. First they forced a save. Then they earned a throw-in. They forced another save and then an awkward clearance when Casillas fumbled the ball. They earned a corner. Former Germany International Piotr Trochowski, who should have been marked by Angel di Maria, scored a completely unopposed strike off that corner.
One and a half minutes had passed. It was the worst possible start from Madrid’s point of view.
Casillas was the one stand-out of the match on Madrid’s side, remaining calm throughout and making two world-class saves – one of them from a header only about a yard out. The rest of team was disjointed. Higuain never seemed to calm down from his altercation with the Sevilla players and was possibly the poorest player on the pitch; his touch off, his aim too. Sergio Ramos missed the open goal-mouth from half a yard out. Marcelo's usual linking-up play on the left side was too well defended. Xabi Alonso, normally so effective in maintaining possession and spraying out telling passes, had almost no effect on the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo forced two saves, one off an excellent free kick, another off a shot from an impossibly narrow angle, but was ineffectual in the second half. Angel di Maria, already on a yellow card and never particularly calm on ill-tempered occasions like this, should have been sent off in the 43rd minute for lashing out at an opposition player and was removed, along with Mesut Özil, at the half.
The substitutions were Karim Benzema and Luka Modrić, while Callejon was to replace Álvaro Arbeloa when Madrid switched to a three man defence to try to win the game on the hour. It was to no avail. Modrić began very well, sending a withering shot against the uprights, and he had, when in possession, an excellent touch, good control, and passing ability. But these qualities had already been present in Mesut Özil, so the substitution was rather too like-for-like to make much impact on a disjointed team. Karim Benzema, on for di Maria, had been sent on in a difficult moment to help out his team, but was unable to change the game and was largely anonymous. The introduction of José Callejon meant a great deal of fire-power up front and some added pace, but insufficient creativity in midfield to exploit it.
None of Mourinho's substitutions were enough, in other words, to make up for a disjointed passing game - or to neutralize Sevilla's pressing.
Finally, a large number of officiating mistakes were made, many of them crowd-driven. One involved a challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo in the box. Pepe’s yellow card, given when Negredo dived, was another obvious error. Di Maria, as was stated above, should have been sent off. Hard challenges made on Özil or Sami Khedira, with elbows, were ignored. A case could be made that Gonzalo Higuain should also have been off within about 5 minutes of playing time. This is noted for the record.
Sevilla, for their part, played more than well enough to win and it is not always possible to tell if Madrid’s forwards are out of form, or if Sevilla’s defence, physicality and pressing were that good.
A final comment: of particular concern from the point of view of a Madrid fan remains Real Madrid’s propensity for losing leads, or conceding, from free kicks. Arguably every point lost this season is because of errors made from set-pieces.
4 games, 4 points.