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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 2 Levante

Real Madrid’s first half was fluid and fun. The second half was less comfortable.

Real Madrid v Levante - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid beat Levante 3 - 2 (Benzema x2, Casemiro; Mayoral, Melero). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game quotes, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

On a Saturday matinee — a time-slot Real Madrid have not done well in over the past two seasons — Real Madrid put in one of the more entertaining first-half performances we’ve seen in the past few months.

As we saw the game unfold, it was clear Levante wanted to sit in medium block with lots of width in their defensive line — a scheme designed to prevent overloads and limit the progression of full-backs. But Real Madrid, who fielded a 4-2-3-1 with James in the 10 slot, had enough movement between the lines that eventually Paco Lopez’s men get sucked into playing more and more narrow, and conceded space for Real Madrid to attack as a result.

Casemiro, who was one of the main engines in the first half, was allowed time on the ball, and both he and Kroos distributed the ball comfortably and efficiently. Casemiro in particular was roaming, while Kroos stayed on the left in midfield. The Brazilian would drop deep in between center backs, and on other sequences would be counter-pressing and giving Real Madrid second-chance attacking opportunities.

His movement, in conjunction with overloads from Carvajal and Marcelo (the former of which had a really bright first half on both ends of the field), James pouncing on balls quickly and centrally, and Benzema and Vinicius roaming in the final third, eventually caused Levante to collapse.

Carvajal set up Benzema perfectly for a header on Real Madrid’s first goal. On the second, James slips in Benzema, with a pass that exemplifies how good his quick decision-making in the final third is:

Just before half-time, Real Madrid made it 3 - 0. Vinicius Jr, who was overthinking passes and dribbles all game — clearly in his head a bit — played a great square pass to Casemiro. The sequence was started from a Vazquez through ball:

The second half wasn’t nearly as comfortable for Real Madrid, who dialled back a gear with a three-point lead. Levante pressed high up the pitch on the first sequence of the half, forcing a giveaway from Varane. While Real Madrid did attack (and nearly scored on several occassions through Hazard, Vinicius, Benzema, and James), they also had a few slips defensively. Mayoral shook Ramos on a run to make it 3-1, and after Carvajal’s giveaway nearly cost Zidane’s men another goal, the Spanish wingback was bullied at the far post:

Real Madrid held on, though despite Levante having good chances to equalize. Had Real conceded a third, a surreal cloud would’ve been cast over the Bernabeu for yet another collapse after the game was seemingly under control. We’ll break this down further in the coming hours: tactics, substitutions, and any other talking points that will naturally arise. Stay tuned for tonight’s post-game podcast.

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