Rafael Benitez started life as Real Madrid’s manager with a tame 0-0 draw with newly-promoted Sporting Gijon at El Molinon. Abelardo’s minnows managed to keep the mighty Whites at bay, whilst keeping the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale quiet for the full 90 minutes.
Sporting Gijon: Ivan Cuellar, Alberto Lora, Luis Hernandez, Bernardo, Isma Lopez, Carlos Carmona, Sergio Alvarez, Nacho Cases, Jony, Miguel Angel Guerrero, Antonio Sanabria.
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Danilo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jese.
Bale As The Number 10
There was much clamour regarding Bale’s favoured position on the pitch; the player himself was insistent on playing in the ‘hole’ area behind the centre-forward, and Benitez granted the Welshman his wish as Bale started as Real Madrid’s central attacking midfielder in their 4-2-3-1 shape.
The move, although it did not backfire, turned out to be less than inspired. Against a Sporting side content on sitting back and defending and Real Madrid themselves enjoying possession aplenty, Bale always ran into blind alleys and even failed to complement the runs of the players ahead of him as he more than once played the wrong pass, or ran too long with the ball.
Inadequate Goal Threat From Real Madrid
Real Madrid fired in 27 shots and managed to hit only 30 percent of them on target. They weren’t helped by the massed ranks of Sporting defenders, who played their season opener as if it was a cup final, but much of the blame will be apportioned to Benitez and his club for not addressing a pressing issue in personnel.Jese, who is a forward adept at playing anywhere across the final third but isn’t a Benzema-esque leader of lines, played as the centre forward.
With Benzema hamstrung and no other striker on the bench, perhaps it was a case of too much responsibility on Ronaldo’s shoulders too early in the season. The transfer window has a week to run, and Real Madrid and Benitez can ill-afford to look ahead to a long, hard campaign with only one specialist centre forward, and they have dropped two points already with the season having barely started.
Sporting Attack Through Their Right
Sporting Gijon were pinned back for almost the entirety of the game, but managed their own share of attempts at goal. Antonio Sanabria hit the crossbar in the first half, while Carlos Carmona’s second half header almost had the net bulging. That said, the Rojiblancos, who deployed a double pivot in their 4-4-2 system, attacked behind Real Madrid’s attack-minded left-back, Marcelo, in transitions when the Brazilian was behind play.
Almost half of Sporting’s attacks came through their right, as they maintained their lines well to thwart their more illustrious opponents. They started with a very deep block, but gradually spread vertically before added Real Madrid pressure in the second half meant they put up a blanket defence and allowed little space for the likes of Bale to run into.
Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid: Reactions
Benitez has remained upbeat despite losing two points and a possible backlash from the club’s faithful, and remained optimistic.
He said: “It’s just the beginning. I think this team didn’t win his opening Liga match last year either. I just save our second half work. We displayed more than what is needed in this kind of game. We need to adjust and improve on everything: conditioning, accuracy and understanding between the players, but I’m still optimistic.
While Benitez’s counterpart Abelardo reveled in his team’s gritty performance, and feels a draw against Real Madrid is a triumph for Sporting.
“The draw is fair and draw against Madrid is a triumph,” said Abelardo.