Real Madrid began their Champions League defence with a late victory over Sporting CP at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Substitute Alvaro Morata headed a late winner, after Cristiano’s magical free-kick had cancelled out Bruno Cesar’s opener.
Marcelo, Dani Carvajal returned to the full back positions, and Casemiro assumed his role in the middle of midfield. Karim Benzema started ahead of Alvaro Morata, who had led the front line relatively well in the Frenchman’s absence through injury.
Sporting began well, and did not show the reigning champions too much respect. Gelson Martins dribbled at Sergio Ramos, after a mistake by Marcelo, and got a shot away, but Kiko Casilla got down to his right to save well.
The hosts struggled to cause the Sporting defence any real issues and the half ended at 0-0.
A crazy second half would follow, as two minutes into the restart, Sporting had taken the lead.
Bruno Cesar pounced on a loose ball after Modric’s tackle saw the ball to roll inside the Madrid box. Cesar cut in on his left foot and bent a low shot inside the bottom left corner of Casilla’s goal.
Sporting continued to harass the Real defence, Martins showed great skill to evade three Madrid challenges, and tried to find Cesar, but Dani Carvajal came to Madrid’s rescue with a great interception.
Moments later Cristiano Ronaldo looked to have been felled in the box, but Sebastian Coates had indeed played the ball.
Real still struggled to provide any real threat on Rui Patricio’s goal, and Sporting were nearly 0-2 up. Martins crossed towards Bas Dost, but the latter couldn’t apply to requisite finish.
Real Madrid were then awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area when Marvin Zeegalaar was adjudged to have fouled Gareth Bale. Bale blazed the opportunity over before being replaced by Lucas Vazquez.
Zinedine Zidane also replaced Karim Benzema with Alvaro Morata, and immediately, Real nearly equalized.
The decision to take Bale off raised a few eyebrows, but the Welshman had suffered a blow to his hip in the first half. Ironically, the changes seemed to spring Real into life.
And they nearly equalised with 20 minutes remaining, but Casemiro headed over from point-blank range after Varane flicked on Kroos’ corner. The offside flag spared his blushes.
James was then introduced in place of Toni Kroos. A few minutes later, he slid a lovely ball through to Morata, who was wrongly called offside, but the Spaniard’s finish was lacking.
Then, after patient build up, Carvajal whipped an excellent cross in behind the Sporting defence. Ronaldo met it but his effort hit the inside of the left post and Morata was ruled offside again.
It seemed to sum Ronaldo’s night up, and you felt as though it wouldn’t be Real’s night. Though the home side were starting to take the initiative.
And then it happened. Two minutes from time, Cristiano was clumsily taken down by substitute Elias on the edge of the area. James hovered by the dead ball, but Cristiano was always going to pull rank. After assuming his typical stance, the Portuguese fired the ball like an arrow towards the top right corner, and despite Patricio’s best efforts, he could not palm the ball away. Real Madrid were level.
Real stepped through the gears again and the latest wave of attack created the winner. James found space wide left, and whipped a pinpoint cross, which Morata met expertly. The header proved too powerful for Patricio, who again, could only palm into his net.
Far from vintage from the reigning champions, but as the cliché states- it’s a sign of a good team to win without playing well.
Next in Group F, Real Madrid travel to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday 27th September.