Madridistas have seen this movie before. In La Liga, where ties are awarded one point, opposing teams focus on closing every space in their final third — packing the box, and capitalizing on any defensive error in order to take one point from Real Madrid on the road. In their first game of the season at the Santiago Bernabéu, that is exactly what happened. After 95 minutes of having the lion’s share of possession (63%), shots (14), and passes completed (577), Real Valladolid shocked Real Madrid with a 1-1 draw.
With Eden Hazard (injury) and Luka Modric (suspension) unavailable, Zidane needed to inject offensive creativity and midfield control. He therefore green lit James Rodríguez and Isco Alarcón to the starting lineup. The Colombian midfielder had solid on-ball prowess and a handful of goal-scoring chances — from a direct free kick sailing just over the crossbar to headers in the box. Isco had a fairly par game with brilliant moments of spinning out of trouble to keep possession followed by annoying ball losses that stifled offensive sets. All in all, James and Isco brought flair but nothing more.
Real Valladolid is a team that escaped relegation last season by four points. However, under former Real Madrid legend Ronaldo Nazario’s ownership, they are seeking to move up the ladder and had a busy summer with 14 new players added to their roster. Their defensive performance for long stretches was remarkable. Even though Real Madrid had many opportunities to score, especially in the first half, Real Valladolid held firm and didn’t waver under the relentless waves of attacks.
When Karim Benzema finally scored the first goal in the 83rd minute, Real Valladolid kept composure and immediately instituted a high press. This led to Toni Kroos losing possession in center midfield, which is a rarity. Their instant attack caught Real Madrid’s back line off guard. Forward Sergi Guardiola netted the tying goal five minutes later, which spoiled the Madridista party, and gave Real Valladolid what they sought in their trip to Madrid: one golden road point against the Kings of Europe.
If Real Madrid wants to win La Liga, six global points need to be earned against these teams that are not in the Champions League zone. It is not enough to simply play better. At the end of the day, the objective is the same: Score more than your opponent. The goals rained down in Balaídos, but were scarce in the Santiago Bernabéu. It was refreshing to see Socios and supporters in the stands positively cheer throughout the game, but that may not happen if this performance repeats next time. When the team returns to Valdebebas, they need to work on finishing plays and playing out of a high press. Those details cost the team dearly in the home opener. The next game is at Ceramica against Villarreal, which will be another difficult place, and against a scrappy team to play against. The march towards Liga title #34 will be tough but is not impossible. ¡Hala Madrid y nada más!
- Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)