Another late show steals a point!
La Liga Santander Week 2
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Real Madrid 1 (Karim Benzema 82’)
Real Valladolid 1 (Sergi Guardiola 89’)
Following on from last week’s late winner against Real Betis, another goal in the final minutes was enough to rescue a point for Pucela at Real Madrid to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
After enjoying the bulk of possession and chances throughout the match, the home side finally went ahead through Karim Benzema with less than ten minutes to play. However, an improved second half for Sergio González’s men was richly rewarded with Sergi Guardiola’s second goal of the season to snatch a draw.
Real Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane, set discussion ablaze in the build-up to the match by naming James Rodríguez in his starting line-up. The Colombian star was on the bench for last week’s 3-1 win against Celta Vigo, the first time he had featured in the squad since his return from loan at Bayern Munich where had spent the last two seasons. He slotted in at midfield to replace the suspended Luka Modric, while Álvaro Odriozorla made way for Dani Carvajal at right-back and Vinicius Jr. dropped to the bench for Isco. There was another start for the recently much-maligned Gareth Bale, who had spent the summer with numerous question marks surrounding his future at the Madrid giants.
Sergio kept faith with the same 4-4-2 formation which bore fruit in Seville, but Turkish striker Enes Ünal was promoted to the starting eleven as cover for Sandro who limped off last week, and two summer signings made their debuts; Pedro Porro in right midfield – pushed up from his natural right-back position – while Fede San Emetorio stepped into central midfield for the injured Rubén Alcaraz.
The match followed a similar pattern to when these side met at the Santiago Bernabéu in November last year. Immediately, Madrid set out their stall to keep possession and create numerous opportunities to wear down their opponents. Bale quickly established himself as a thorn in Pucela’s side and was first to test Jordi Masip in the away goal, connecting with a cross from the left which the ‘keeper gathered. He then fired a warning salvo across the face of goalmouth with the outside of his left foot, but the effort pulled narrowly past the post. Marcelo tried his luck from distance, but he blazed wildly over the bar and James could not find the target with a shot from inside the box after Marcelo and Toni Kroos had linked up from a quick corner.
It was not until the 22nd minute where Real Valladolid fashioned their first opportunity at goal and it almost paid dividends. A free-kick in midfield found Óscar Plano, the scorer of last week’s winning goal, and he rifled a shot from long range which dipped but not until it had just cleared Thibaut Courtois’ goal. However, this was brief respite for his team-mates in defence as Madrid continued to press for the opener. In the space of three minutes, Los Blancos had launched three assaults on the Real Valladolid goal. Carvajal broke forward and crossed into the box from the right and found Benzema, however the Frenchman’s connection was uncharacteristically weak and he could not direct it on target. Bale followed up with a strike from the edge of the area, carrying it high into the white-clad supporters section behind the goal. James came closest of the three, with his wicked free-kick shaving the paint on the top of the bar.
In their limited forays forward, Real Valladolid tried to muster something positive, but were stifled at every turn. Ünal collected a pass and bore down on goal, only to find Sergio Ramos stepping across to snuff out the danger with a challenge which left the forward prostrate on the ground. The assistant referee had his flag raised, however the replays showed that Ünal had indeed been level when the ball was played into his path.
By now, Real Valladolid had their backs firmly to the wall as the Madrid onslaught continued apace. James was unlucky not to hit the target with a bullet header from Kroos’ pinpoint cross. As if having the quality of the opponents to contend with was not enough, two moments of self-inflicted madness in quick succession somehow went unpunished. Míchel gave the ball away cheaply in midfield, Marcelo and Benzema combined to good effect to provide a chance for James who drove a shot from the edge of the box, but the Colombian was anguished to see it edge past Masip’s left post. Óscar Plano was also guilty of a lack of concentration when he surrendered possession deep in his own half. Benzema was fed into the box and he closed in on goal, only to find Masip looking sharp to block his tight-angled effort at the near post with his feet. From the resultant corner, the ball was worked out to the right flank and Benzema connected with a cross which flew a hair’s breadth past Masip’s left post.
Real Madrid were incessant in the quest to forge the go-ahead score. Casemiro was the next to head narrowly over from a Kroos delivery as the German enjoyed great success on the left-hand side. Carvajal epitomised the side’s confidence as he shot from length, however the finish betrayed the ambition. The half ended with Madrid unable to breach the away goal, and Real Valladolid went into the dressing room behind in all the statistics except the score.
The break seemed to serve Sergio’s side well as they emerged for the second period in brighter form. Two minutes after the restart, a rare counter attack was concluded by Sergi Guardiola but his was a poor effort and did not trouble Courtois. Moments later, Óscar Plano played in Ünal who was unable to drive his shot past the defender who blocked the attempt.
Normal service quickly resumed, with the home side in the ascendency as they peppered Masip’s box with opportunities. Isco sent a cross in from the left, but Benzema failed to hit the target again as his header powered over the bar. The Frenchman neatly backheeled the ball into the path of Marcelo and the left-back delivered in a tempting cross for Bale who could only direct his header wide of the mark.
There were occasional, sporadic signs of life from Pucela, with Ünal continuing to be industrious. Firstly, he made a clever run off the defender’s shoulder as Óscar Plano fed the ball into Sergi Guardiola, however he was unable to link up with his strike partner and the move broke down agonisingly for the visitors. Soon after, a long ball upfield was controlled nicely by the Turk, but his shot was deflected away by Carvajal.
To freshen up the attack, Zidane exchanged Vinicius Jr. for James. The young Brazilian was largely ineffective and could not find the attacking effectiveness that the Colombian had provided. Bale cleverly maintained possession while skirting the edge of the box to find space for a shot. When daylight opened up for him, he tested Masip but the former Barcelona goalkeeper was up to the task.
The turning point for Sergio’s side was the introduction of Waldo, the young left-winger, who replaced Javi Moyano after the captain picked up a knock. This meant a reshuffle of the formation. Porro dropped into the right-back slot vacated by Moyano – who handed the captain’s armband to Míchel – and Óscar Plano switched to play on the right to accommodate Waldo.
Los Blancos upped the ante, throwing all they could muster at their opponents. Zidane replaced Isco with Luka Jovic, a €60 million summer capture from Eintracht Frankfurt. The striker almost made an immediate impact, crashing a header onto the corner of the goal frame just fifteen seconds after he took to the pitch. However, Real Valladolid bravely continued to chip away at the giants at every opportunity they could. Porro’s long pass found Sergi Guardiola, who played it onto Ünal. A fortuitous bounce during a challenge on the striker saw it fall to Waldo and he unleashed a shot at goal which moved awkwardly in the air, forcing Courtois to parry it away uneasily. Buoyed by this, Pucela probed further at the Madrid defence. Nacho stormed forward and played a teasing ball to the back post. Sergi Guardiola’s slight touch lacked the direction it needed to carry it past Courtois and ended up spinning harmlessly wide.
Antoñito was brought on to replace Porro, who looked like he had run out of fuel coping with the foraging runs of Kroos and Marcelo. With the balance of play being so skewed in favour of the home side, it was little surprise when they did eventually find their way through, but it took a quality Benzema strike to finally beat Masip. The evergreen forward took advantage of the space the newly introduced Antoñito afforded him in the area with a sumptuous turn and shot which found its way past the outstretched Real Valladolid number one. It was a cruel blow for Pucela – given their stoutness and discipline in defence – but it could be argued that it was richly deserved for Madrid given their superiority throughout the match to this point.
Unbowed, the away team picked themselves up and resumed their task. Nacho again provided a quality ball in for Sergi Guardiola who snuck in at the far post, but with the goal at his mercy, his stretched effort went over the bar. Anuar came on for Fede, which seemed more to do with adding fresh legs than making any tactical change. Waldo continued to make further inroads on the left, embarrassing Vinicius Jr. twice in quick succession, the second time seeing him push the ball between the Brazilian’s feet and dancing round him on the touchline. It was this industry and attitude which finally was rewarded as Óscar Plano swept in a ball to Sergi Guardiola whose first -time effort beat Courtois to nestle in the net with just two minutes left on the clock. It was no more than they deserved, having refused to concede defeat following Madrid’s hammer-blow of a goal with so little time left. Tangibly shaken and frustrated, the capital side threw themselves forward with fury, but the team that had denied them on so many occasions throughout the match held firm one more time and made it to the end.
The sound of the final whistle sparked celebrations which were as merited as they were expressive. Real Valladolid had earned their first point at the Santiago Bernabéu since September of 2001and it was the first time they had left that stadium without tasting defeat in eight attempts. Having stunned quality sides for two consecutive matches, Pucela move onto the last of three away fixtures by tackling Levante next week and they will be brimming with enthusiasm at taking four points out of six at this early stage.
Thibaut Courtois; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos (Capt.), Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Gareth Bale, James Rodríguez (Vinicius Jr. 56’), Isco (Luka Jovic 68’); Karim Benzema (Lucas Vázquez 90’).
Substitutes unused: Keylor Navas; Éder Militão, Nacho Fernández; Federico Valverde.
Jordi Masip; Nacho, Mohamed Salisu, Kiko Olivas, Javi Moyano (Capt.) (Waldo 59’); Óscar Plano, Míchel, Fede San Emetorio (Anuar 84’), Pedro Porro (Antoñito 80’); Sergi Guardiola, Enes Ünal.
Substitutes unused: Andriy Lunin; Joaquín; Toni Villa; Miguel.
Image: Getty Images / Eurosport