Real Madrid choke again …

Real Madrid were held to a shock 1-1 draw by newly-promoted Levante on Saturday afternoon at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.

Ivi struck early to hand the visitors a lead, but Real would respond through Lucas Vazquez. Real surely fancied themselves to find a winner in the second-half, but a resolute Levante defence, plus an excellent performance from goalkeeper Raul, kept Los Blancos at bay.

Capping Real’s dismal day was Marcelo’s sending off in the 89th minute for a kick to the head of Jefferson Lerma.

The result is the second consecutive draw at home for Real, both of them curiously coming against LaLiga’s two Valencia-based sides.

With so many players involved with their respective national teams during the international break, Real boss Zinedine Zidane put out a different looking starting XI. Among the usual bench players who started on Saturday were goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, full-back Theo and midfielders Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez.

Despite being the new kid on block, the newly promoted side from Valencia quickly looked comfortable playing on the Bernabeu turf and they took a shock 1-0 lead just 10 minutes in. Zidane will not be happy with his defence when he reviews the goal on film, as it came from a simple throw-in. Ivan Lopez found Ivi one-on-one with Dani Carvajal and then Ivi spun the Spain full-back before poking in a shot past the late arriving Casilla.

Real looked to respond but could only summon several half-chances. Things then got more complicated for Zidane as striker Karim Benzema limped off with a knee injury. Fortunately for the French manager, he had a talent-rich bench to turn to and Gareth Bale was chosen to replace Benzema.

Levante were spunky and if Ivi didn’t have Real’s attention before, he surely had it after nearly curling in a free kick past Casilla, missing a second goal by inches.

But if there is one weapon Real can always count on to help in a tough spot, it is a Sergio Ramos header, and Lucas Vazquez’s equaliser toward the end of the first-half was the product of the centre-back’s aerial game. Toni Kroos curled in a free kick which Ramos rose to head toward goal, Levante goalkeeper Raul made the reaction save, but Lucas Vazquez was there to clean up the rebound and score from a yard out to make it 1-1.

Bale was very active coming on, but was also guilty of being wasteful on three very good chances: the first a header that he sent wide; next a one-on-one with Raul that the Levante stopper managed to parry wide and then in the second half a header that went just over the crossbar.

By the hour mark Zidane had seen enough and once again turned to his bench for a spark, this time opting for Spain hero Isco to come on for Llorente. With Isco’s arrival, the match completely belonged to Los Blancos, who were camped out in the Levante half, but things were still level as the match trickled into the final 10 minutes.

As mentioned many times before, the final 10 minutes for a visiting team holding onto a result at the Bernabeu are the longest 10 minutes in sports, and Saturday was no different for Levante. Sure enough, Real ratcheted up the the pressure. Asensio almost got the winner after a clever flick-on from Bale, but again Raul came up with a big stop. Next was Bale who incredibly headed wide after a fine cross from Isco.

Marcelo was next to try his luck with a left-footed bullet, however on this day it would take something special to beat Raul, who parried the shot wide. Inexplicably though, a moment of madness overcame Marcelo on the follow through. While colliding with Jefferson Lerma, the Brazilian kicked the Levante man in the face and was promptly issued a red-card.

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