Real Madrid drop their fourth point in two games after an inexcusable draw against Levante at home. The match ended 1-1 (Ivi; Vazquez). Here is our quick reaction to this game. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, post-game podcast, and pressers.
A return from international break against a newly promoted side signalled a vintage Zinedine Zidane rotational shuffle — a famous lineup jumble that saw Zidane use to maintain freshness and nab two major trophies last season.
Only this one felt... different. Even if we ignore the fact that Levante are better than perceived — a much stronger team than your typical newly promoted side, and certainly better and more disciplined than last season’s three relegated teams — the lineup was raw, and the scheme had shifted in the opposite direction to what had brought Real Madrid success in the past few months.
With Marcos Llorente and Theo Hernandez inserted as starters, the emphasis was hitting the cutting runs on the flanks — utilizing the pace of Lucas Vazquez and Theo to catch Levante’s backline off-guard. In a vacuum, that’s fine. But the passes from the back from Marcelo to Theo weren’t consistently sharp, and sometimes overhit. When the ball did zip there as it should, Levante fended off crosses efficiently. All of this enabled Levante to gear up defending those in-swinging crosses, without sacrificing their compactness down the central channels. Without the extra central midfielder to help provide some incisiveness down the middle (Kovacic/Isco/Ceballos/Modric to start would’ve helped with this greatly) the chance curation just wasn’t prolific enough.
And, amid that labour in attack, Real Madrid conceded a goal — Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez caught napping marking the space at the near post. Carvajal — who was unfairly criticized as the main culprit despite being the furthest man defending the space — tried to recover as best he could given the circumstances. But he couldn’t see where the ball was, and by the time he realized, Ivi already had released his shot.
Shortly after, Karim Benzema was forced to leave the game due to injury, replaced by Gareth Bale, who’s dynamism and darting runs helped amplify Real Madrid’s offense. But Bale’s issue, as the Bernabeu was fed up with, was his lack of proficiency in front of goal. He missed three-to-four really great chances -- some admittedly more difficult than others — but he should’ve scored at least one goal when he was through on goal in the first half which Raul saved.
In the second half, Zidane introduced his gunslingers, Kovacic and Isco. Immediately, Real Madrid dominated possession and pinned Levante deep. But once again Levante provided no space down the middle, and they defended until the death. Marcelo earned a red card late (which admittedly, I can’t report on, given that I didn’t get a good replay while writing this reaction), and Toni Kroos hit the woodwork in the 93rd minute which nearly gave Real Madrid the winning goal.
Another disappointing result, to be sure. There should be no excuses here. We’ll break down this game more in the coming 24 hours.