Sporting were enthusiastic to be back in the Primera Division and the opening 30 minutes of the match were wide open. Rafa Benítez sent out what looked like a 4-2-3-1, with Ronaldo, Isco, and Bale playing a notch behind Jesé. Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić anchored the midfield, and each put in solid performances in the season debut. Danilo started in place of Carvajal, and was neither brilliant nor poor.
In the 35th minute Sporting had a headed ball go off Navas' crossbar and touch the goal line, but no goal was given. Even after seeing the replays I couldn't figure out if Sporting were robbed or not, but this will certainly bring some discussion about why La Liga doesn't use goal line technology. Real Madrid were fortunate to not fall behind. On the ensuing break, Ronaldo was running straight on goal and was yanked down, but no foul or penalty was given. Each team had a right to feel robbed by the officials at the half.
Isco's performance was a bit of a microcosm of Real's attacking luck all day. He dribbled well and got through Sporting's packed midfield, but failed to create once on goal. Meanwhile Jesé was clearly out of position and did not affect the game much. Isco and Jesé would go on to be subbed for Kovacic and James, respectively, and neither sub really settled in. Like fellow newcomer Danilo, Kovacic did not do much.
As the second half marched on, Real became more and more desperate as Sporting looked content to pack their third. A lack of off-the-ball movement and an over-reliance on individual brilliance led to few legitimate scoring chances for the visitors. Marcelo completed only 80 percent of his 82 passes and led the team in touches, which won't yield many chances going forward.
Sporting were spatially disciplined and made smart, pragmatic fouls to slow down Madrid all day, and they certainly earned their point.
But it wasn't a completely abject performance (at least that's what the optimist in me says). Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos both put in strong outings, combing for 15 clearances and 15 interceptions. Gareth Bale looked infinitely more comfortable with more freedom to run centrally, and he forced Sporting's defenders to make decisions all day. Ronaldo tested Iván Cuéllar four times and was decisive in the attacking third. Lastly, Luka Modrić facilitated the whole team as he's known to do, and led the team in chances created.
A frustrating performance to open the Rafa Benítez era has put Madrid in an early hole in La Liga.