There was a sense of lethargy and mediocrity in this match right from the outset. An early kick-off (one that I sat through at the Bernabeu for what journalists said to me at half-time “glad you could attend Lopetegui’s last home match!”) seemed to set a bad vibe with players still waking up (despite it being noon in Madrid). It started with a mistake from Varane early and it became infectious, with players giving the ball away, looking leg-heavy, and racking up possession without any real sense of control.
un señorJosé Luis Morales Nogales! Banger pic.twitter.com/FrL510qkjk— Javarne, esq. (@SampleMayne) October 20, 2018
There were very few things going right as Levante made it 2 - 0 with a Roger Marti penalty in the 13th minute. The Odriozola - Vazquez tandem on the right-flank looked out of sync on both ends of the field. Sergio Ramos was getting grilled defensively; Levante were cutting through with their limited possession without much opposition; Courtois looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet; there was no efficient press nor any defensive compactness when Levante’s offense was slowed down; Isco didn’t look match fit and gave away possession cheaply; and the passing and body language just didn’t look right.
Two things that were working (to the extent that things ‘work’ when you’re down two goals at half-time to Levante): Marcelo’s through-balls to Asensio on the left (it was on nearly every time, and not used enough), and creating opportunities through set-pieces and crosses, where Mariano looked dangerous as a target-man and Levante goalkeeper Oier pulled off some great saves. Those two things, along with Casemiro having a really nice game stifling attacks when the team let him down defensively otherwise, were sparse signs of life.
At half-time, Gareth Bale took the pitch to warm up, which was met with huge applause. He came in for Odriozola as Lucas Vazquez shifted to the right-back slot. Bale did create some dynamism, to be sure. His off-ball runs were dangerous, and there were clear instructions for him to stay up the pitch without many defensive duties. There were times, to start the second half, where Isco, Asensio, Mariano, and Bale would just stay high up the pitch as forwards when Levante were attacking Real Madrid’s final third.
That caused some good offensive chaos — particularly when Ceballos and Benzema came on for Isco and Asensio. Benzema hit the post (otherwise, his decision-making was really bad), Marcelo pulled one back with a classic Marcelo cut-in-and-shoot sequence, Real Madrid had plenty of shots and opportunities, and Mariano scored a disallowed goal. But the response time just wasn’t good enough, and the slow start dug Real Madrid a hole too deep to recover from.
Heading down for “Julen’s last post-match presser” now. We’ll break this down more in the coming hours, and tomorrow’s podcast should break the internet, one way or another. This was very poor from Real Madrid.