Real Madrid were held to a scoreless draw for the first 25 minutes against Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon. The floodgates then burst open on a soaking wet afternoon in the Spanish capital with three first-half goals giving the home side a strong lead at the break. Levante won the second half 2-0 but it wasn't enough and Zidane's men took all three points.
The story of the game
Zinedine Zidane’s charges opened the scoring on 25 minutes thanks to a delightful header from Karim Benzema. Dani Carvajal broke down the right side, cut in and curled a sublime ball onto the head of the Frenchman who made it 1-0.
It became 2-0 to the home side on 31 minutes and again it was the number nine. James Rodriguez, who returned to Los Blancos after two years at Bayern Munich, threaded through a neat pass and Benzema cooly finished beyond Aitor Fernandez in the Levante goal. Levante became sloppy and lost their control in possession, allowing Madrid to dominate. Madrid had more opportunities to make it three, with chances from Toni Kroos and another effort from Benzema.
It went from bad to worse for the Valencian side just before the break. The highly talented Vinicius Junior broke down the right and picked out Casemiro at the back post, who slid home after a 50-yard run to make it 3-0 on 40 minutes. Levante left a huge gap for Casemiro to run into, the Brazilian duly obliged and was rewarded with his 19th goal for the club.
At half-time, Paco López’s Levante looked dead and buried. Madrid had the majority of the ball and three goals in 15 minutes had all but put the game to bed.
Borja Mayoral give the away side a lifeline on 49 minutes, slotting home against his parent club. The Spanish striker decided against celebrating but Lopez on the sideline could sense an opportunity.
Zidane in the opposite dugout gave Eden Hazard his debut on 60 minutes; Madrid’s new number seven came on for Casemiro, a change that altered the outlook of the game. Madrid became more open in the middle due to the attacking substitution and the withdrawal of their most defensive midfielder, Casemiro; Levante were then able to penetrate and cause concern.
At 3-1, Zidane also withdrew Sergio Ramos; this provided Levante with more of the ball and more of a threat. Another former member of Real Madrid’s youth team - Gonzalo Melero - made it 3-2 on 75 minutes with a powerful header at the back post. It was game on at the Bernabeu.
More chances were created at the other end, Hazard went inches away from netting on his debut and Benzema cracked a curling effort off the post. In the 93rd minute, Levante captain Jose Morales tried to deceive Thibaut Courtois at his near post but the effort went just wide and that was that.
Real Madrid move onto eight points from their opening four games and remain undefeated, however, Zidane has plenty of defensive work to do if they’re going to be a serious title contender this season.
Levante put in a strong second half shift and almost rescued a point right at the end.
Benzema amongst the goals
Karim Benzema finished last season on 30 goals in all competition, with 21 in La Liga leaving him as third-highest goalscorer after Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. If Real Madrid are to compete for honours this season the Frenchman staying fit will be key.
Defence a concern for Zidane
Madrid had plenty of chances to see the game out. Sloppy defending cost them two second-half goals and allowed Levante back into the game. Zidane’s men have conceded six goals in their opening four games.
Hazard makes his debut
Eden Hazard made his debut, coming on as a substitute in the 60th minute. The Belgian had a superb chance that was tipped around the post by Aitor Fernandez. Having beat two players on the edge of the box, the new Galactico made his way into the box but was brilliantly denied his debut goal by the Levante netminder.