This was the banana peel that Lucas Navarrete and I spoke about on a podcast two weeks ago. Levante have been solid under Paco Lopez for a couple seasons now, and have had good performances against bigger teams ahead of them in the table — most notably they beat Real Madrid last season, Barcelona this season at home, and a good performance in a narrow loss at the Camp Nou too. They are sound defensively, and decent in transition. With two eyes on two big upcoming games, a trip to Valencia could’ve easily been overlooked. And it was.
This was a weird game from top to bottom. Real Madrid should’ve won this game, and played well offensively apart from the final hurdle once they got there. Isco, in his traditional floating role, was possessed in the first half. He released Benzema into a shooting position in the box twice after some nice touches, and found Carvajal on a dink through-ball (a mirrored Messi to Alba switch over the top) in the box. His movement was good, as was his pressing and effort.
But oddly enough, the other two attackers in Real Madrid’s line-up — one who’s had a great scoring season (Benzema), and another who had an encouraging comeback against Celta (Hazard) — were underwhelming. Hazard was tame with his shots, and eventually limped off the field for Vinicius in the second half in what was a worrying sight. Benzema wasn’t trigger-happy when he got in good positions, or his shooting was off or ill-timed — with Sergio Postigo closing him down several times. If either of those two have a better game, this might’ve been a narrow victory.
On some sequences, Real Madrid had space to work with in transition, and on others, Levante clogged the half-spaces and central channels while doing well to make sure Zidane’s men don’t find space in the final third. But Real created enough to win, doing everything they could apart from being lethal in front of goal.
Levante, whose press was hit-or-miss throughout, had dangerous attacks of their own, testing Real Madrid’s wonky defensive shape and high line all night — especially in a chaotic second half where both teams punched each other on the counter-attack but made sloppy decisions in front of goal. On one particular sequence, where Real Madrid’s transition defense fell apart and was spread thin, Roger Marti ignored a completely wide open player in the box and opted to shoot right at Courtois. A pass there, and the opening goal could’ve come sooner.
Levante did eventually punish Real Madrid’s defense. Morales kept his run onside, and sent a bullet over Courtois, who doesn’t even put a hand up to contest:
UNBELIEVABLE GOAL FROM MORALES!— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) February 22, 2020
Levante are on track to put a major dent in Real Madrid's title pursuit! pic.twitter.com/40327np4Iy
This was a very strange game, which ultimately Real Madrid failed in. We’ll break down all of the player performances and tactical wrinkles in more detail on tonight’s podcast.