Real Madrid blew away their early season cobwebs in the first half, only to gather dust again in the second as a vivacious attacking performance was nearly spoiled by a Levante comeback in an eventual 3-2 victory.
Eden Hazard made his competitive debut for Los Blancos on the hour mark but much of the action was at the other end of the pitch, as Levante chipped away at the hosts’ lead.
Earlier, a double from Karim Benzema and a fine move that was finished off by Casemiro had secured what looked like an unassailable lead for Real by half-time. Goals from Borja Mayoral and Gonzalo Melero, however, made for an incredibly nervy finish at the Bernabeu.
REAL MADRID (4-1-4-1)
Thibaut Courtois – Barring one fine claim from a corner, was a bystander until the crucial stoppage-time save from Jose Campana that ensured the three points. 7
Dani Carvajal – The cross for Levante’s first came down his side and he was comically flat-footed for the far-post header that reduced Real’s lead to just a one-goal advantage for the last half hour. The white hankies nearly made an appearance because of him. 4
Raphael Varane – Played some fine passes from defence in the first half – he just does not look like a leader with Ramos off the field. Had played a lot for France during the international break, maybe should have been the one to come off? 5
Sergio Ramos – Ramos was preserved with PSG in mind alongside Casemiro, but it looked like a bone-headed move given Levante had already scored to put Real on the ropes. They panicked further when their icon came off. 6
Marcelo – Looked like the most assured performer of the Madrid defence – which is always a surprise – though was deceived by Jose Luis Morales right at the end, as the Levante winger nearly sneaked in an effort at the near post. 6
Casemiro – The nominal anchor but was clearly told to get forward, having galloped 50 or so metres to add the finishing touches to the third. Assured in position and came off with the score at 3-1. 7
Lucas Vazquez – Carvajal did not cover himself in glory, but for a player renowned for his solidity, Vazquez offered little in both defence and attack down the right-hand side. Did not make a single key defensive contribution and his lack of explosiveness alongside his more illustrious team-mates was clear. 4
James Rodriguez – Gorgeous disguised pass set Benzema up for his second. There’s no need for the often laboured Kroos/Modric combo in games like this and Zidane seems to have realised it. The Colombian has a future in Madrid, after all. 8
Toni Kroos – Kroos’ measure of control is very much welcome behind players like James and Vinicius who can force the issue and leave the German to do what he does best. Accurate with all eight of his long balls and finished with an eye-watering 97 per cent pass success rate. 8
Vinicius Junior – Rewarded his manager’s faith with a marauding performance on both the left and right. Oft-criticised for his lack of end product, but he supplied Casemiro, would have chalked one up himself if not for the offside call and he also forced a super save in the second half. 7
Karim Benzema – No one has scored more goals in La Liga in the calendar year – besides, of course, Lionel Messi. He added his 18th and 19th of 2019, the first a header and the second a cool finish with his right foot. Only the bar denied him his hat-trick. 9
Eden Hazard – A couple of promising, jinking runs, then looked slightly rushed along with the rest of the Real attack as Levante put the pressure on. 6
Eder Militao – Will be playing alongside Varane against PSG with Ramos banned and there could be trouble if a partnership isn’t struck in training. 5
Luka Jovic – A few steps down from Benzema and won’t be getting much game time if the Frenchman remains fit. 5
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