Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has insisted that Los Blancos must recover their hunger for winning.
The Spanish capital side went without a major title last season and have experienced a rocky start to their 2019/20 campaign. Madrid could only manage two wins in four games in La Liga and struggled to get all three points against Levante on Saturday.
Perez is confident that his side will recover and get back to winning ways soon.
“It wasn’t the season that we wanted,” Perez said, according to Marca.
“We have to understand that this team came from winning everything, but it’s true that we’ve lacked the intensity we needed to maintain our level.
“I’ve no doubt that we’ll change that. We have to make the necessary changes and our challenge is to keep winning in an increasingly complicated and competitive situation.
“We have to recover our hunger for winning.”
Perez defended his players, who have been criticised for their poor performances during the last year.
“We’ve made a great effort to construct a winning squad,” he explained.
“On September 23 the [Best FIFA Football Awards] gala will be held, and we’ll have nine players from our current squad nominated for the best team.
“We have players who have won a lot, who have won everything, and they deserve our love and respect.”
A sodden Santiago Bernabeu witnessed a curious 3-2 victory for a zestful Real Madrid against Levante.
In the absence from the start of any summer signings, although €100 million Belgium winger Eden Hazard was fit enough to finally debut off the bench, several familiar faces came to the fore. The unplayable Karim Benzema – a post denied him a magnificent hat-trick before the hour-mark – headed in the 25th-minute opener and then soon slotted home the second after a one-two with the recalled James Rodriguez, moving onto four goals in four La Liga games this term.
A high-energy first-half display in their 4-3-3 formation was symbolised with the third. New Brazil cap Vinicius Junior was played into space on the counter and supplied a perfect centre for rampaging compatriot Casemiro to convert from close range on 40 minutes.
Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral provided hope with a tap-in just after the interval and Castilla youth product Gonzalo Melero’s 75th-minute header at the back post increased the threat of a third-successive unbeaten trip to the Bernabeu. Portuguese centre-back Ruben Vezo then directed a point-blank header at Thibaut Courtois during injury time as Madrid, just, held on.
Here are the talking points:
PICKING UP THE PACE
Incessant late summer rain was not the only dampener present.
An unfamiliar 13:00 (UAE 15:00) kick-off, patchy attendance, consecutive dropped points, presence of six pre-season additions in the dugout, an early injury crisis and Wednesday’s looming trip to Paris Saint-Germain combined to generate a subdued build-up. This maudlin mood was not aided by the fact unfancied visitors Levante came in one point, and one place, above their vaunted hosts, while only last October they’d won 2-1 on the same turf.
But this negativity was swiftly blown away by Los Blancos’ best sustained period since the first half of the opening day 3-1 triumph at Celta Vigo.
The forced break-up of the Toni Kroos/Luka Modric axis in centre midfield handed opportunity to Rodriguez. Wales forward Gareth Bale’s suspension also granted the exuberant Vinicius fresh chance to impress.
Rodriguez’s dynamism highlighted the worth of a proper No10 in a 4-3-3. Vinicius’ first assist of 2019/20 and luminous display showed why he should not, necessarily, make way when Bale and Hazard are ready for launch.
Lively Madrid had 17 more attempts (25/8), made 308 more passes (632/324) and enjoyed 66 per cent of possession. It really should not have been this close…
LESS IS MORE FOR LEVANTE
Levante are hindered by finance and history.
The budget for 2018/19 was €500m less than Saturday’s opposition and their return to La Liga from 2017/18 has delivered successive 15th-placed finishes.
Paco Lopez’s men, however, embrace their limitations. They roll with the punches offered up by a – hopefully, for them, profligate – attack and prepare counter strikes of their own.
Evergreen skipper Jose Luis Morales was a threat and almost caught out Belgium No1 Courtois at his near post in the 94th minute, while three attempts on target from seven produced an economical two goals. The spurned third of these, Vezo’s header, was, in truth, the easiest.
7 - Levante’s Borja Mayoral has scored seven LaLiga goals, three for Real Madrid and four as a Levante player, six of them away from home. Guest. pic.twitter.com/FKkNRmHYKf— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 14, 2019
Minus a nervy second-half injury time, they were distinctly second best to Madrid. Preceding victories against Villarreal and Valladolid were similarly fraught.
Yet their durability and contentment with hanging on the ropes evidences why they could survive, while greater-resourced rivals flounder.
This was the moment the Madrid faithful had been waiting for.
Hazard’s recovery from a pre-season thigh injury was rewarded by a 30-minute cameo. Attacking menace was, naturally, exuded by the ex-Chelsea magician.
A trademark dart towards the edge of the penalty box and firm low shot required Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez to be alert. He also helped win the ball back in the build-up to Vinicius’ disallowed goal.
Hazard also, impressively, completed all 18 passes and was fouled a joint-most three times.
Head coach Zinedine Zidane now has a bold call to make. Does he throw his latest superstar straight into the Champions League fray this midweek and alleviate a growing injury pandemic, or take a patient approach?
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