So, it happened. Real Madrid continued their Bernabeu woes with, not a draw, but a loss to Real Betis. We are now seven points behind Barcelona after five games. The good news? It’s September. The world isn’t ending, and La Liga isn’t won this early.
Yes, there is a mountain to climb, but if there is any team that can climb the mountain, its Zidane’s Real Madrid. Not just Real Madrid, but Zidane’s Real Madrid. Now is not the time to bring out the pitchforks and call for the Frenchman’s head. The mister got some things wrong today, but in reality Adan put in a world class performance and the ball just would not go in. Modric and Bale were both inches away from scoring goals of the season. No true Madrid fan is happy, but there is still a long way left in the season and the best team will come out on top.
This Betis side has already moulded to the Quique Setien way. They posses out-of-the-back and play under immense pressure. Madrid pressed high all night hoping to capitalize on a mistake, but Betis stuck to their guns. Their defensive structure was solid with two banks of four. That structure gave Madrid freedom to attack from the flanks and in turn Betis defended for their lives through the middle. Setein’s tactics, Adan’s superman performance, and an over zealous Real Madrid are what led to this loss. Madrid will work out these kinks and the goals will flow again at the Bernabeu. We don’t have to be the best in September, but it is now time to rev the engines and pick up momentum for February and onwards.
There were some encouraging performances — Gareth Bale in particular — so let’s take a look at who made the grade and who didn’t:
Keylor Navas — 7.5: Betis did not offer much of a threat for most of the game, but when they did, Keylor came out on top. Pena sent a blistering shot toward the right upper 90, which brought out a crucial acrobatic save from the Costa Rican. Cannot be blamed for the goal as the defense left him out to dry. Sanabria was wide open and Ramos looked like he could care less.
Dani Carvajal — 5.5: Started the game well, bursting his lungs to make a goal-line interception. Showed incredible vision to hit Marcelo on the switch a number of times. Though, his touch was off tonight. He made late runs attacking Betis’ weak side and was slipped through twice, only for his touch to fail him both times. Many may baulk at this theory, but I believe it had to do with the switch in footwear. Cleats make a massive difference, even if it’s just psychological, with a players touch. He was wearing Magista’s tonight over the usual Nike Tiempo Legends and I was surprised to see he didn’t switch at halftime. Fans are still waiting to see the Carvajal from last spring and maybe a rest is required.
Raphael Varane — 6: Had a superb performance at the Anoeta over the weekend and unfortunately was not as commanding tonight. He and Casemiro were the only defenders from minute 80 and on. They were left to pick up the pieces on every Betis counter attack and suffered because of it.
Sergio Ramos — 5.5: It’s fun to watch Sergio individually as the game goes on around him. He is so commanding and always pushing the defensive line forward to get the team to press high. He dictates whether the team presses or whether they drop off. He was solid throughout 80 minutes of the game, but when push came to shove, and the points were on the line, Ramos wanted to be the hero. He may very well have received instruction from Zidane to push forward. Unfortunately there would be no “Ramos Time” today. Instead, he was left partly at fault for the Betis goal. He didn’t track Sanabria’s run and looked like he had no idea the Paraguayan was behind him.
Marcelo — 6: The effort was there from the Brazilian, but the final product was not. He could not make that attacking difference like he so often does. That little something-special was lacking. Looks like he will be the latest in the infirmary after coming off with a hamstring injury. Stay tuned for his diagnosis.
Casemiro — 7.5: The Brazilian is so well-versed tactically. It is no wonder both Zidane and Benitez have complimented him in the past for studying the game. He covers Carvajal and Marcelo expertly, and allows their game to flourish and to attack. He can wrangle his body into any tackle and usually comes out on top. Not much was wrong with his performance today, it’s not his job to score the goals. Unfortunately was forced into a back three at the end of the game and left isolated defending counter after counter.
Modric — 8: He and Gareth were the best for Real Madrid today. He had two good chances early in the first half. One came from a drilled-in Carvajal cross which he connected with for an almost perfect one-touch volley. His jukes and feints were a joy to watch and it was surprising to see him taken off with the game in the balance.
Kroos — 6.5: A typical consistent performance from the German. Though, he couldn’t find the key to unlock the tight-knit Betis defense. He did look a little fatigued as the game wore-on and lunged into a few tackles, with Betis’ players easily skipping past him. Zidane maybe should have opted to give Kroos a rest instead of Modric and give Ceballos a go.
Isco — 5: Poor game from Isco. The standard he has set for himself means the match tonight was simply not good enough. He had some nice touches and beautiful passes, but he also had too many cheap giveaways. Had one guilt-edge opportunity in the first half when he was played through by Modric and set himself up with a perfect first touch only for Adan (reoccurring theme of the night) to make a great save.
Bale — 8.5: Best performance of the season and my man of the match. He continually created something out of nothing. Be it his roundabout flick to Cristiano in the box or his Cruyff-like back heel finish that was parried against the post. He should have had at least two or three assists tonight as he laid the ball on a platter to Cristiano on a number of occasions. The Portuguese just didn’t have the usual clinical finishing that we Madrid fans take for granted. Bale was actively involved and is looking fitter, faster, and most importantly more confident. He was interchanging passes and combining, whipping in crosses, and he got into the box as often as possible to get on the end of a cross. Would have scored the goal of the season if not for Adan.
Cristiano Ronaldo — 6: It just wasn’t meant to be for Cristiano tonight. Messi’s poker surely would have motivated the #7, but the ball just did not want to go in for him. It is now up to him, Ramos, and the rest of the leaders to pick this squad up and get them humming again.
Marco Asensio — 5.5: Was brought on to change the game and make an instant impact, but Betis continued to snuff out attacks despite the introduction of young Marco. He had one direct run down the left flank and teed up Ronaldo, but again the rust was there for Cristiano and he couldn’t find the back of the net.
Borja Mayoral — 6.5: Slipped through by Bale right when he entered the game, but Adan came up big and made another crucial save. He also got on the end of a Lucas Vazquez cross with a brilliant header which looked destined for the back of the net only for Adan to make another heroic save.
Lucas Vazquez — 7: The best of the substitutions. Lucas came on to add another attacking threat as Zidane switched to a back three. He bundled through challenges to win the ball and overlapped Carvajal and Bale to put in some beautiful crosses. He had a vital slide tackle in the 87th minute to save the Whites from a threatening Betis counter attack.
Zinedine Zidane — 5.5: Had the ball gone in tonight, few would complain and the team would be gaining momentum. The performance wasn’t terrible, but credit to Betis and Adan — they just couldn’t be beaten. The last 10 minutes were bad, as Madrid went full gung-ho and Zidane simply got it wrong. Taking out Modric probably wasn’t the call and leaving the back three — or rather back two — stranded on counter attacks was a recipe for disaster. The team and Zidane will hopefully learn from this. Madrid fans need to remain calm. Yes, there are issues and yes, Zidane should take some blame. Madrid fans cried for stability years ago, well we have it now and we need to support the team. Rash and radical decisions and opinions are not the way forward for the defending La Liga and European champions.
Man of the Match: Gareth Bale