A delicate back-heeled pass from summer buy Luka Jovic upon his first start provided another highlight for Real Madrid when a Gareth Bale brace salvaged a 2-2 draw at intense Villarreal.
Jovic, 21, was one of two pre-season buys – the other was Lyon left-back Ferland Mendy – on the team sheet for the visitors to El Madrigal. They could not avoid an uncertain opening, from which forward Gerard Moreno lashed in a 12th-minute rebound.
But the former-mentioned €60 million addition from Eintracht Frankfurt produced an artful flick in first-half injury time, from which Spain right-back Dani Carvajal centred for Wales misfit Bale to tap into an open goal.
Jovic was already sat in the dugout after an otherwise ineffectual run-out by the time Javi Ontiveros crossed for fellow replacement Moi Gomez to convert from close range. Bale – also rightfully sent off in the final seconds for a second yellow card – would artfully cut inside and find the bottom corner in the 86th minute to prevent an opening loss of the campaign.
Here, we review the Serbia forward’s display in Los Blancos’ second stalemate from three mixed top-flight fixtures in 2019/20:
Attempts on target: 0
Key passes: 0
Head coach Zinedine Zidane sought a response from last week’s dispiriting 1-1 home draw with relegation-fodder Valladolid.
Jovic – who needed to state last month that the French tactician “believes in me” after reports of an instant loan exit – had almost saved the day then with a header that thumped against the woodwork and this time he began up top alongside veteran Karim Benzema in a 4-4-2 formation.
An early shot fizzed just wide from the edge of the penalty box, prior to a majestic intervention to spark the leveller.
This would prove the main takeaway of a confident, but not consequential, opening start in white.
11 - Thibaut Courtois has conceded in each of his last 11 league games (15 goals in total), his longest run without a clean sheet (LaLiga + Premier League). Warning. pic.twitter.com/zaHg2gzobM— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 1, 2019
Express yourself: Confidence is key to flourishing, or floundering, at Santiago Bernabeu.
The composure and imagination under pressure from Jovic to send Carvajal into the clear was breath-taking.
He also possessed the joint-second most attempts for Madrid (two) before his 68th-minute hooking. It looks a matter of time before he starts converting.
Find a wavelength: It was a lonely night for Benzema and Jovic.
An inability to create from midfield saw the pair record the least touches, prior to the latter mentioned’s substitution.
The opening goal was Madrid at their joyous best. Everything else felt incomplete.
It is not solely Jovic’s fault that he registered the least touches (31) at the point of removal. A centre-midfield pairing of Toni Kroos and Casemiro did not inspire.
He must, however, question whether he could have done more to link up play.
‘Tantalising’ is an apt way to describe Jovic’s evening. His back-heel was utterly sublime, the rest instantly forgettable.
Zidane is, clearly, struggling to put all the pieces together now that one win and two draws have been recorded. Jovic must hope he features prominently in the shake-up, a situation helped by Bale’s suspension and Belgium wizard Eden Hazard’s thigh injury.
Real Madrid hit the road for a testing trip at Villarreal on Sunday night, with Zinedine Zidane’s squad decimated by injuries in the early weeks of the season.
It’s a key game for Los Blancos to bounce back into winning ways after the frustration of last weekend’s 1-1 home draw against Real Valladolid, and Zidane’s team more or less picks itself with those injury problems depriving him of several men.
And those physical concerns are the first of our talking points ahead of the action.
MADRID INJURY CRISIS STRIKES AGAIN
The latest Madrid man to go down injured was Isco, who became the ninth player to be sidelined in just six weeks since the start of pre-season when suffered a hamstring injury in training this week.
The Spain midfielder joins a lengthy list in the treatment room, which is also currently occupied by summer signings Ferland Mendy, Rodrgyo Goes and Eden Hazard, along with creative talents James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio and Brahim Diaz.
With Thibaut Courtois and Luka Jovic also picking up injuries from which they have subsequently recovered, it brings into question the training and preparation methods in place at Los Blancos, especially as the club has also suffered from a similar litany of injuries in previous seasons and continues to do so despite a summer reshuffle of the medical staff.
However, Madrid are by no means the only big club to suffer high-profile absentees, and the injuries sustained by the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Kylian Mbappe and Gabriel Jesus opens up a wider debate about the physical demands placed upon top players. Are we asking too much of them?
VAZQUEZ TO CHALLENGE FOR STARTING SPOT?
A piece of good news for Zidane, who is believed to be highly frustrated by his club’s failure to land Paul Pogba during the summer transfer market, is the return of Luka Modric following suspension. The Croatian star is set to return straight into the starting eleven, bolstering the midfield following the injuries sustained by James and Isco.
Unless his plans are disturbed by any more last-minute injuries, Zidane’s big selection decision is whether Isco’s absence should lead to a starting spot for Vinicius Junior or whether Lucas Vazquez should be promoted to the starting line-up for the first time this season.
Zidane hasn’t always appeared to fully trust Vinicius, whose progress has come to a halt following a series of sensational displays midway through last season, while Vazquez has always been one of his more trusted performers.
A starting spot for Vazquez would entail a switch of flanks to the left-hand side for Gareth Bale, who has ironically become a guaranteed starter once again following a turbulent summer which very nearly saw him leave the club. And with his team in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory, this is the ideal stage for Bale to reaffirm his renewed – if rather accidental – status as a key player for Zidane.
WILL VILLARREAL UNLEASH THEIR FRUSTRATION?
Hosts Villarreal will be feeling highly frustrated as they head into the game, knowing they should have gained all six points from their first two games rather than the solitary point which leaves their near the foot of the table.
The season opener saw the Yellow Submarine lead on three separate occasions at home to newly promoted Granada, including a 4-2 advantage with just 15 minutes remaining, but fail to hold onto their advantage and eventually settle for a remarkable 4-4 draw.
Then, last week, the local derby trip to Levante saw Villarreal take an early lead and create enough chances to put the game to bed by half-time, but wayward finishing allowed the hosts to capitalise on a quickfire pair of second-half penalties to claim a hugely undeserved 2-1 victory.
Despite the negative results, Villarreal did enough in those games to show they have enough creative talent to trouble any team in La Liga, with Santi Cazorla pulling the strings, Samu Chukwueze a constant threat down the right and Gerard Moreno looking sharp in attack. And Javi Calleja’s side will be determined that, this time, they will finally accompany a strong performance with a victory. Third time lucky for the men in yellow?
Former Brazil star Rivaldo says that he expects Real Madrid to keep improving under Zinedine Zidane while urging the Los Blancos fans not to press the panic button just yet.
Los Blancos settled for a 1-1 draw with Real Valladolid on matchday two, dropping the club’s first points in their La Liga campaign.
And Rivaldo, who played for rivals Barcelona from 1997-2002, says Zidane’s return will be enough to lead the 2017 Champions League winners back to where they belong after settling for a third-place finish in the league last season.
“Even dropping points at home last weekend in La Liga, I don’t see why the club and fans might start to panic, after all we are just starting the league and Barcelona also lost their first game,” Rivaldo said.
“Those kind of thoughts should only come after 10 matches or so, and if things are not improving.
“Zinedine Zidane is re-setting his tone on the team and soon things should get better. The club will battle for La Liga and Champions LeagueBrazil, but I don’t doubt that they might make a move in the transfer market before the transfer deadline.”