If it’s true that a mini-crisis is only ever two bad results away when you are managing Real Madrid then Zinedine Zidane has one on his hands after he saw his team fail to win at home for the second game running and have Marcelo sent off.
The Spanish champions have now picked up just five points from their first three games, having only drawn with Valencia two weeks ago and were unable to beat lowly Levante in this one. Despite the array of talent available to the coach he is clearly missing the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zidane had taken risks with his team selection leaving Gareth Bale, Casemiro and Isco on the bench and Luka Modric and Keylor Navas out of the squad. With Ronaldo still out serving his ban for pushing a referee Madrid were under-strength and it was not long before absentees were being missed.
Navas’ absence was felt first as Levante took a shock lead. A long throw from Ivan Lopez was allowed to bounce in the penalty area and as Madrid defenders wondered why stand-in keeper Kiko Casilla had not come to claim it, Ivi Lopez nipped in to flip it over Dani Carvajal’s head and fire it home.
Madrid were a goal down and soon they were a man down too when Karim Benzema hobbled off holding his right leg. Zidane might have centre-forward issues this season having sold Alvaro Morata and loaned out Mariano, especially if Benzema’s problems with form and fitness continue. Bale came on to applause – better than going off to whistles which was what happened in Madrid’s last home game.
Lucas Vazquez got the equalizer when Toni Kroos’ corner was headed goalwards by Sergio Ramos. The Levante keeper Raul Fernandez pushed the ball out but only as far as Vazquez who swept it home.
Bale then raced away from Levante’s high defensive line with a well-timed run but his left foot finish was saved by Fernandez. Madrid had at least improved since his introduction.
Madrid finished the half on top but they were still missing Luka Modric’s ability to pull the strings in midfield and the suspended Ronaldo’s urgency up-front. The experiment of playing two attacking full-backs down the left – Marcelo and Theo Hernandez had also not really worked. Zidane had work to do during the break.
Madrid increased intensity in the second half but they were still missing something and the Bernabeu clearly felt that something was Isco, because they gave him a huge ovation when he got off the bench to warm-up.
The home side continued to struggle to make inroads in the second half. Bale headed Carvajal’s cross just over with what was their best chance. Finally Zidane made a move on the hour and put Isco on for young holding midfielder Marcos Llorente. The man the Real Madrid players call magic had half an hour to win the game but he barely made an impact.
Levante were also threatening and substitute Emmanuel Boateng might have scored when Casilla came wandering out of his goal. Only Nacho’s block stopped Boateng getting his shot away.
Bale’s clever flick then released Asensio but the Spain midfielder could not beat Fernandez. The Bernabeu was growing increasingly anxious. Madrid had forced 13 corners but none had been made to count since the first half.
Bale then had another chance with Hernandez hanging an inviting cross up. The Welshman connected well but nodded it agonizingly wide. That was the last Madrid chance. It was the cue for Ramos to charge forward but he failed to force the winner.
Marcelo kicked Jefferson Lerma in the head as the two went to ground and was shown the red card. He watched the rest of the game from the mouth of the tunnel but there was not much to watch as Levante played out time leaving Madrid with just five points from their first three games. Ronaldo’s return cannot come soon enough.