Late night drama ensued at the Bernabeu for Real Madrid in their season opener against Real Betis. A late header from new signee Isco, who was provided by Marcelo’s bending cross, was just enough to give a 2-1 victory over a hard working, well composed Real Betis squad. Pepe Mel should be ecstatic about his team’s performance against Ancelotti’s men, despite the loss.
Betis’ midfield was structured rigidly and was very disciplined against Los Merengues’ pressure going up top. Verdu, Igiebor, and Matilla closed many spaces in the middle of the park that Real Madrid utilize in order to break defenses apart. Not only that, but Mel’s men held possession with tenacity, passed with precision, and arguably, played better soccer than Ancelotti’s Real Madrid for the most part.
Coupled with Betis’ stamp of authority throughout the match, Real Madrid were also prone to one mistake, in specific, that was reminiscent when Mourinho was at the helm with Los Blancos last season.
Set-Piece Dilemma Continues…
Already in the first match of the season, defending set-pieces, once again, has proven to be Real Madrid’s weakness. Of course, it’s only the first game of the season and there is much work for Ancelotti to impose on the squad. However, with three points always on the line, along with Barcelona’s constant pressure on Los Blancos to reach maximum points; indeed, each match is crucial. Despite Real Betis’ goal coming from defensive mistakes from Madrid’s backline, Mel’s men created multiple chances from corners and crosses which presented numerous problems. If Ancelotti will want to contend for both La Decima and La Liga this season, then he will have to start at the backline.
On a more positive note, the backline nonetheless looks solid, excluding Ramos’ shambolic marking against the run of play leading to Betis’ first goal, however. Pepe looked as sharp as ever in center back, Carvajal seems very promising at the right back position, and Marcelo was as ruthless going up in attack as he was coming down to defend. Of course, with this being the first game of the season, Ramos looked as if his nerves didn’t settle in. Madristas shouldn’t worry too much about his performance today, as Ramos, more often than not, is one of the best center backs in the world when he’s in form.
Promising Season Ahead…
Aside from various defensive faults that Ancelotti’s men exhibited today, the team did show fighting spirit until the final whistle. Specifically, the partnership between Isco and Marcelo was a sight to behold in the dying minutes. With Ozil struggling to reach his full form (even today against Real Betis, he was more of a frustrated figure), Isco is quickly raising heads, but more importantly, he’s putting forth a convincing argument to start in the central attacking area instead of ‘Avatar Eyes,’ Ozil.
Additionally, not only should Isco be commended for registering his first header in La Liga, but he should also be commended for sustaining control of the entire game. His assist to Benzema was unselfish, yet smart and incisive. Hopefully, this is a sign of more to come from the ex-Malaga man who looks like the most promising signing of the summer. It will also be interesting to see, as the season progresses, if Ancelotti will rotate Ozil with Isco in the center attacking midfield position.
Moreover, if it wasn’t for Isco’s late, 88th minute goal, Real Madrid would surely have been in the spotlight yet again with Barcelona steamrolling through Levante with a convincing scoreline of 7-0. A loss or a tie for Ancelotti today was unacceptable. Dropping points in the first game of the season last year is exactly what Mourinho did, along with consecutive stalemates and upsets throughout the season, which ultimately costed him La Liga to Barcelona. Ancelotti is not Mourinho. The Italian is making sure of this, one step at a time.