Real Madrid faced off against 16th place Levante in a second consecutive away league match. The team were hoping to build some consistency after failing to put together a strong run of positive results in recent weeks. Zidane declared that the club would not concede defeat domestically just yet and they would continue to approach games with full concentration and intensity. The obstacle that stood before them on the day was Levante – winless in their last ten league matches and coming off a 2-2 draw against Deportivo La Coruna.
Zidane fielded the famous all-star starting XI consisting of the preferred players in net, defense, midfield, and attack. Save for ten or so minutes in the 2-1 loss to Valencia in La Liga last February, this was the first time these eleven players had seen the field together in the last three seasons. Including their stint against Valencia, this was still the first time they had been played together from the start.
Real’s dominance rewarded with Ramos goal
Real Madrid were deployed in the 4-3-3 formation that’s usually utilized when the BBC play. The start of the match saw the visitors enjoy the majority of possession but struggle to create through the middle and access central areas due to lack of vertical compactness and Levante’s staunch defensive shape. This forced constant switches of play for exploratory purposes and to slowly tease out openings. Despite these issues, the team attacked well on the wings managing to use Modric’s advancements and Benzema’s supportive positioning to create overloads and overlaps.
Generally, the final ball for many of the opportunities Real had was disappointing as Carvajal and Marcelo’s wasteful deliveries failed to challenge Levante’s defenders meaningfully. However, from a functional perspective, chance creation had been enhanced by Benzema and Modric’s adjustments to mitigate the restricted central zone. Furthermore, Real Madrid complemented positive wing-based offensive schemes with searching vertical balls to meet runs behind the defense. After failing to convert their offensive play into goals, Real Madrid finally broke the deadlock thanks to Ramos.
Levante came out of their shell and attacked more aggressively after the opener. Defensively, Real Madrid were targeted on the left side as many of Levante’s actions were initiated on Marcelo’s wing. Whether deliberate or not, this somewhat exposed Marcelo’s one-on-one and positioning issues which were potentially compounded by limited support from Kroos who pressed/counter-pressed in an isolated fashion at times.
Levante’s equalizer stuns Real
Real Madrid’s lead forced Levante to be a little more adventurous loosening their shape defensively. This along with the forwards retreating to support ball circulation and progression enhanced the team’s incisiveness. They created several great opportunities that should have had better outcomes.
Los Blancos continued to dominate possession and were averaging over 70%. But one moment would tilt the balance of play towards the home side. Jose Luis Morales’s run in the 42nd minute caught Marcelo and Ramos off-guard and neither tracked him properly.
Morales’ diagonal run (Marcelo being on his wrong side) cut across Ramos who was more focused on the ball carrier than the evading Levante forward. Lukic found Morales with a stunning ball and although Navas made a great save to deny the latter, Boateng followed up with a neat finish into the bottom right corner.
Real Madrid’s questionable gamble
Levante started the second half with renewed energy. Their passing was crisp and sharp and they held possession more convincingly than in the first. Real Madrid pushed very hard for a second goal. The team did so by committing significant numbers forward. This created huge spaces in defense that Levante easily exploited.
While Real’s pressure did cause some issues for their opponents and led to a couple of optimistic half-chances, the risk didn’t seem worth it. They were severely exposed and could have easily been punished if not for poor Levante execution of counter-attacks.
On the ball, Real had some issues with connection and transition mostly due to poor touches from players. Kroos in particular was having an off day of sorts and made several elementary errors in the execution and timing of his passes (losing the ball on several occasions). Modric, on the other hand, continued to be a bright spark and provided overlapping options on the wings.
Isco’s impact cancelled by another defensive mistake
Zidane substituted Isco into the game and the dimunitive Spaniard’s impact was instant. The flow of possession became much smoother as Isco effectively joined the midfield line. He relieved the pressure on Modric and Kroos to dictate play (as Casemiro’s participation in this regard was very limited) and indirectly facilitated their movements by occupying vacated spaces.
In addition, the team’s fluidity translated offensively as they manufactured several great opportunities through combination play and in attractive locations (two such examples were Isco and Carvajal’s shots inside the box) – this was highlighted by explicit low cutbacks into the box as opposed to crossing. Isco scored from a similar play after the ball fell in Real’s favour close to the byline.
Benzema did well to pick out Isco whose immaculate first touch set up his shot. Zidane took Ronaldo off at this point and brought on Asensio to provide energy and defensive solidity. Asensio did well to give the team energy but his final balls were disappointing.
Levante again, just like when they went down in the first half, ramped up their intensity and troubled Real Madrid. Roger Marti’s mishit header was the first warning sign. The visitors appeared to be forcing their defensive actions which inadvertently allowed Levante to bypass them more easily. This “urgency” in ball recovery phases also manifested itself in players overcommitting at a time when that wasn’t necessary. This ultimately cost the team when Pazzini scored with only two minutes to go in regulation.
The midfielders (bar Casemiro) are pushed up far too high as Real tried to play the ball out of the back. Carvajal extended to the right to intercept the pass to Morales. This left Pazzini in no man’s land between Varane and the right back and beyond Casemiro. Jason played a great ball through and Pazzini just barely got it past Navas.
Real Madrid drew Levante after failing to consolidate leads obtained at two different times of the match. They couldn’t turn heavy possession into consistent chance creation while also being unable to finish the good opportunities they created. Two mistakes created Levante’s goals but the home side were able to unsettle Real with sustained pressure while a goal down in the first and second halves.
Despite having less shots on net, Levante created the better chances based on xG stats reflecting a fairly even game in that regard. This draw adds to a worryingly growing collection of disappointing results domestically this season.