It was somewhat telling that Real Madrid’s two most spectacular moments during Sunday’s 2-0 win over Levante were near misses. The first came early in the first half when Gareth Bale controlled the ball in midair before trying flick it to the far post for Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a magical bit of control that unfortunately came to nothing. The same could be said of Karim Benzema’s Zlatan-like scorpion kick, which rocketed off the crossbar in the second half: impressive, but ultimately futile. Between these two spectacular near misses, however, Real put in a convincing, if not awe-inspiring performance.
Gareth Bale, increasingly the target of Real Madrid fans’ ire, came good with two first-half goals that essentially took the fight out of the visitors. Bale, who’s so often seemingly made the wrong decisions of late, was in the right place at the right time to cap off a spectacular attack to give Real the lead in the 18th minute. Then with five minutes remaining in the half, Ronaldo took a shot from inside the 18 that deflected in off Bale for Real’s second.
The Welshman may not have known anything about it but he was credited for the goal nonetheless. It was an encouraging day for the struggling Bale.
Though Real started the first half well, they faded as time went on, failing to build on their lead and making mistakes that could’ve cost them against a better team, say Barcelona. But in the end a win is a win, and after taking the lead Carlo Ancelotti’s team never really looked in danger of surrendering it.
Luka Modric returned to the side and brought back much of the fluidity that’s been lacking in his absence. The Croatian’s passing and ability to maintain possession will never draw as many headlines as the flamboyant attack of the “BBC,” but when Modric is absent, this team misses him.
Against Levante, Ancelotti also had the benefit of having a fit first-choice back four of Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Daniel Caravajal to call on. Their passing out of the back could’ve been better and Ramos picked up a needless yellow card. But they were solid overall defensively and comprise the best-possible backline for this current Real Madrid side. Provided everyone is fit, they should all start against Barça at the Camp Nou on Sunday.
If anyone in the Real Madrid squad came away from Sunday’s game frustrated, it was undoubtedly Ronaldo. The Ballon d’Or winner tried everything to get on the scoresheet, executing a spectacular scissor kick at one point and hitting the post at another. He again failed to score on a free kick and saw his best effort of the night haplessly deflected in by Bale. Things just aren’t going Ronaldo’s way at the moment. But then against Barça, even a frustrated misfiring CR7 is better than no CR7. While Ancelotti has been criticized for not even considering dropping Ronaldo, Bale or Benzema, when the three are on-song, as they were for most of the first half, there’s no more dynamic attack in world football currently. What manager wouldn’t want to start such players if they were available to him?
It was far from a perfect performance, but Ancelotti’s team was put through its paces against Levante. This week club president, Florentino Perez rubbished rumors that the Italian manager’s job was at stake, and despite some boos in the crowd, it feels as if the ship is righting itself at the Bernabeu. The sense of crisis is fading and Real Madrid still only trail Barcelona by one point. This team should fancy its chances to go to the Camp Nou for Sunday’s El Clasico and maybe, come away with a result.