Real Madrid left it late. A far-post finish from Cristiano Ronaldo in the 85th minute ensured the three points, as Real Madrid scrambled to one-up Jorge Molina’s equalizer in the second half after Karim Benzema initially opened the scoring with a great goal. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.
Real Madrid did not return from the international break with a bang. They returned from it half asleep, with a shuffled line-up and with a double-pivot. Marcos Llorente, much to the inner-delight of my heart, started for the second time this season. He also, started it in a similarly unfamiliar scheme — a double-pivot alongside Toni Kroos with no third presence in the middle. The emphasis was on the flanks, with Lucas Vazquez hugging the right, and Asensio playing more as a left-winger than a horizontal free-roamer. Llorente played well, to be sure, but I would’ve been more intruiged to have seen Dani Ceballos slot in over Lucas for more vertical incisiveness. Ceballos played with the U21s, but he’s also young, and doesn’t play much this season.
That never even materialized, at any point during this match. Ceballos stayed on the bench, and Isco entered instead. That’s fine, but as was the case against Levante earlier this season (in a game, where, coincidentally, Llorente-Kroos also played in a double-pivot without a third CM), Isco’s introduction was too late , and by the time Real Madrid were looking for more movement down the central channels, their opponents were happy to zip up their defense and salvage a point.
But Real Madrid didn’t have Cristiano Ronaldo against Levante.
Leave it to Ronaldo to finish one of his most difficult chances of the game — taking advantage of a napping, unaware backline by beating the offside trap and slotting the ball in far-post — just after he shockingly missed an open-net from a few yards away.
Lame, but, ‘the most important thing here is the three points blah blah blah’.
In the process of a laboured performance and three vital points to keep the pressure on Barcelona who face a big test against Atletico Madrid tonight, Zidane was able to give playing time to a bunch of players who didn’t feature during the international break: Marcelo, Benzema, Vazquez, Llorente, Kroos; while giving rest to Modric, Casemiro, Isco, and Varane — all before the heavyweight fight against Tottenham this week.
This was as close as it gets to dropping two points. Real Madrid had chances to pull away, but as a recurring theme in La Liga this season, weren’t clinical enough. Getafe also took advantage of a fortuitous goal — a low, inswinging cross which was deflected off of Marcos Llorente, who attempted to block the cross, but rather put it past Kiko Casilla and into his own net. It was also technically an offside goal, as Jorge Molina — the player who the goal was awarded to — was in an offside position as he snuck in front of Nacho to equalize.
It was a struggle, but two players that stood out for me in particular were: 1) Achraf, who looks more and more comfortable with each game, and doesn’t look nervous when he demands for the ball; and 2) Benzema, who naturally slid in sleamlessly in his return from injury. He scored a great goal, and had some sharp movement and touches throughout.
We’ll break this down further in the coming 24 hours.