Levante 1-2 Real Madrid: The boy with the golden touch
It was ugly. It was brutal. It was wet. Hell, there was even blood! But yet we came out with three points in the bag in what was Mou’s first ever win at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia. It was the kind of game that we would have lost if it had come earlier in the season. The conditions were harsh on us, the opponents even more so. Xabi Alonso missed a penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo played only one half of the game and almost all of it seeing through only one eye. Levante could have done us and ceased all our hopes of retaining the title. But then again that did not happen. Thanks to a certain Álvaro Morata and his first touch after coming on as a substitute which ended up in the back of the net.
It was raining cats and.. no.. hippos and mammoths in Valencia. The pitch was water logged thanks to the remarkable drainage system that was not present in the stadium. The referee felt that the game could still go ahead and it did as per schedule. After three weeks of suffering without a recognized left back, Fábio Coentrão returned to the line up with Arbeloa returning to right back. Sergio Ramos and Pepe were paired in the center despite speculations that Varane could be used to give the Spaniard time to recover from an injury that he is carrying. Essien partnered Alonso in midfield like the second half against Dortmund and had yet another excellent game. On a side note, I wonder if its just Mourinho who makes him tick. Callejon too started alongside Özil and Dí Maria just behind Ronaldo.
It took only three minutes for the war to begin with David Navarro elbowing Cristiano on the face while challenging his own team mate for an air ball. Cristiano, bleeding profusely, required five stitches to keep his left eyebrow from coming apart. He remained on the pitch and gave us the lead through a brilliant volley after catching Levante’s defense napping following a Xabi Alonso free kick. It took us around 20 minutes to adjust to the pitch as several times the ball refused to roll irrespective of how insistent players were. Once we went ahead we were happy to play long balls hoping to out run our opponents. We didn’t have that many memorable chances in attack but we did somehow manage to maintain a fairly decent amount of possession given the nature of the game.
Half time arrived and Ronaldo was substituted after temporarily losing vision in both his eyes. Surprisingly, it was Rául Albiol who replaced him and the center back took his place in the middle of the park with the team (or should I say lake) with the team shifting from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. Levante made a change around the hour mark and it worked for them immediately. Ángel was brought on in place of El Zhar and the super sub expertly chipped the ball over an on rushing Casillas from a marginally onside position after being sent through by Martins. The goal came just after both our center halves had hit the cross bar from successive corners. Unfortunately, the scores were still level and we were without a striker. Kaká immediately replaced Arbeloa and we shifted to a 4-4-2 with Albiol taking his compatriot’s position.
The conditions being as abysmal as they were played 12th man for an aging team that would have struggled otherwise against the speed of our players. We couldn’t afford to make quick passes nor were we able to dribble. We therefore continued to resort to old fashioned long balls that made the game look more like water polo than football. That said, the team responded well to the challenge as Mourinho concurred in the post-match presser:
Everyone has problems with these winter games. I had not played a game like that in such conditions. You must adapt. We switched to 4-4-2 as it was not a game to play football. When they reacted we had to show our character.
Luck favors the brave they say and it actually seemed true. In the 73rd minute, we were awarded a penalty after Callejon was fouled on the edge of the box by Juanfran. Xabi stepped up to take it and went for the bottom corner only to meet Munua’s dive. The score remained level and nothing seemed to work for us.
To critics it might seem as though Mourinho had no other choice. Its partially true. But then again Morata is no proven striker and the situation wasn’t ideal for any manager to try out youngsters. We desperately needed three points and for Mou to send out the kid when the team needed a goal more than anything else was real gutsy and it said a lot about our manager’s confidence in him. The kid responded brilliantly nodding home from close range from yet another Xabi Alonso free kick with his first touch. The goal knocked the stuffing out of the home team and the game ended in our favor. Following the game there was a lot of banter with Juanlu claiming that the referee favored us whereas Ramos felt otherwise. There are also rumors that Ballesteros and Pepe went head to head while visiting Ronaldo after the game. More on that tomorrow.
All that aside it was a game which could have gone either way but went in favor of us. We are still behind our rivals in terms of points and we need wins of all kinds if we have to catch up.
Until next time,
Para Siempre Blanco!