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.
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