Benzema finally fires for Real in unconvincing opening win

Andy West 26/08/2014
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Pure relief: Karim Benzema celebrates after making it 1-0 a the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid laboured to a far from convincing 2-0 victory over newly-promoted Cordoba as Karim Ben­zema slightly eased the pressure on his place in the team by breaking a long barren run and Cristiano Ron­aldo added a late second.

It was a poor performance from Los Blancos, suggesting Carlo Ancelotti has plenty of work to do if his team are to return to the top of the La Liga pile.

They actually started well, with the first chance coming when Gareth Bale wildly overhit an early free-kick from 25 yards, before Ronaldo had a strong penalty appeal waved away when he went down under a challenge from Cor­doba left back Jose Crespo as they contested a cross from Marcelo.

Cordoba, back in the top flight after a gap of more than 40 years, then nearly thrilled the 4,000 travelling fans who had made the long journey north from Andalusia when nice approach play from Jose Maria Lopez Da Silva gave a shoot­ing chance to striker Mike Have­naar and his effort fizzed just past the far post.

Real’s Liga debutant James Rod­riguez had been a peripheral figure as he settled into his new team, but following a half-cleared corner the Colombian produced a moment of quality with a deft chip into the stride of Sergio Ramos, volley was easily parried by Juan Carlos.

Madrid’s other new boy, Toni Kroos, then tried his luck from the outside the area, forcing Carlos into a low save to his left, and it was starting to look a matter of time until the hosts took the lead.

And so it proved, with a series of right-wing corners resulting in Kroos’ delivery being met by a thumping header from Benzema.

More goals were soon threatened as James sent a shot straight at Car­los, but Cordoba sent a reminder that the game was still alive shortly before half-time when Havenaar headed narrowly wide from a left-wing corner.

Powerful striker Havenaar was proving a handful for Ramos and Pepe and Cordoba won two more corners early in the second half, and winger Ryder Matos weaved inside to force a comfortable save from Casillas as Madrid’s slow start to the second period continued, prompting some angry touchline gesticulations from Ancelotti.

The hosts finally burst into life on the hour when James pounced upon a loose ball at the far post and forced a strong parry from Carlos with a fierce half-volley, but the home team were unable to find any fluency and another Cordoba allowed to threaten as Aleksander Pantic hooked an acrobatic volley over the bar.

Cordoba then came even closer to a shock leveller when substitute Xisco was rightly flagged offside after turning home the loose ball when Casillas could only parry Febe Cartabia’s low drive.

The game was still in the balance, in fact, until the very last minute, when Ronaldo finally found some space and arrowed a low long-range strike into the bottom left corner.

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Man City’s perfect start goes on as Reds suffer

Alam Khan 26/08/2014
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Stevan strikes: Man City’s Jovetic buries the opener at Etihad Stadium last night.

Having often been referred to as the invisible man last season, Ste­van Jovetic turned on an inventive, inspirational display to send out a warning of not only Manchester City’s intent, but his own in this new campaign.

The frontman struck twice as his side eased to a confident victory over rivals Liverpool in their first game back at the Etihad since being crowned Premier League champi­ons in May.

Jovetic didn’t play in that final game against West Ham, watching on from the bench as injury and illness had restricted the Montenegrin to just two league starts since his move from Fiorentina.

But boss Manuel Pellegrini’s faith in his ability was justified last night with his double. As Liverpool’s left-back debutant Alberto Moreno dithered to clear a loose ball, Jovetic pounced quickly to steal it and smash past Simon Mignolet for the first goal in the 41st minute.

Then a fine interchange in the 55th minute saw his flick in the build-up release Samir Nasri and he was on hand to steer in the return for number two. Sergio Aguero then came off the bench to replace Edin Dzeko, and within 23 seconds, roared on to a fine pass from Jesus Navas and fired past Mignolet to settle the outcome.

It was another example of City’s destructive strike power, and a deadly frontline force that, when fit and in full flow, offers a potency few can match.

Liverpool were simply stunned. Until the opener, they had made the hosts struggle, their defence in good shape and new signing Mario Balotelli watching his past and present club from the stands.

With crunching challenges, there was no surrender, no quarter given from the imposing centre-back pairing of Lovren and Martin Skrtel. They would provide pretty decent security at nightclubs and seemed keen to spoil City’s party by giving few opportunities.

Edin Dzeko had the first as Gael Clichy’s low ball was dummied clev­erly by Jovetic and the Bosnian sent a shot skidding wide.

Pablo Zabaleta showed match rustiness after his post-World Cup break when, unmarked, he met Cli­chy’s floated cross with a volley well over the bar.

Yaya Toure had a curled saved easily by Mignolet, and there was not much for Liverpool to shout about at the other end. A long ball by Steven Gerrard picked out Raheem Sterling in the box, but his weak finish did not match the way he expertly controlled the pass on his chest.

It took Daniel Sturridge 32 min­utes to show Balotelli what he will have to combine, or compete, with up front.

Quick feet and a neat turn deceived Vincent Kompany, but Joe Hart was alert at his near post to block well from his former City team-mate.

Games so tight as this, though, are so often decided on mistakes or quality eventually comes through. For City, it was a case of both.

Moreno will learn from this experience, as will Liverpool as they look to life with Balotelli.

They came on strong towards the end as City stepped off the pace and Hart was alert to deny Sturridge again before the visitors did get a late consolation.

It was a touch fortunate though as Rickie Lambert’s header was saved by Hart, but rebounded in off the knee of Zabaleta. 

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Simeone handed eight match ban for Super Cup misconduct

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In hot water: Simeone was sent to the stands during his side's victory over rivals Real Madrid.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has been given an eight-match touchline ban for his conduct in the Spanish champions 1-0 victory over Real Madrid to win the Spanish Super Cup on Friday.

The Argentine was sent-off for striking the fourth official lightly on the back of the head after Atletico right-back Juanfran had to wait an age to be allowed back onto the field following a facial injury.

Simeone was handed a four-match ban for that action, as well as a further two for protesting, one for sarcastically applauding the decision and a final match for watching the second-half from the front row of the stands just behind the Atletico bench.

The 44-year-old also received a 4,805 euro fine with the club being fined 2,800 euros.

Atletico have 10 days to appeal the decision.

Simeone was already suspended for his side's La Liga opener against Rayo Vallecano on Monday due to an accumulation of yellow cards last season.

And he will also watch Atletico's opening Champions League game of the campaign from the stands after receiving a one-match ban for storming onto the pitch to confront Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane towards the end of their defeat in the final to Real in May.

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