Real Madrid slipped up for the first time in six games, as they could only manage a 1-1 draw away at Elche, in a frustrating game for Zinedine Zidane who didn’t react fast enough with his substitutions.
Marcelo returned to the first team, and it was immediately an attacking face to the Madrid set-up. The first chance game in the opening few minutes, Lucas Vazquez put in a cross for Toni Kroos at the back post, the German’s attempt at heading it back where it came from didn’t come off.
But with Marcelo playing, Madrid always run the risk of space down the left-side vacated by the Brazilian when he ventures forward. And that’s what happened as the hosts found an outlet in Emiliano Rigoni, who took on Marcelo before forcing Thibaut Courtois into his first save of the evening.
Everything was coming down the wings from Madrid, and through long-balls which Elche couldn’t really cope with. One specific long-ball was launched to find Casemiro, who headed it down for his countryman Marcelo to run onto it and smash the cross-bar with a right-footed effort.
Madrid were comfortable evading the press, and were zonally marking Elche into mistakes. And one of them cost the hosts dearly, as a delightful counter started by Luka Modric, ended with the Croatian scoring a header from the rebound of Marco Asensio’s long-range bullet which hit the bar too.
A deserved lead for Madrid, after a solid 20 minutes. And there may have been another one shortly after too, but the referee had to overturn his initial decision of awarding Real a penalty, Iván Marcone cleared of handling the ball.
Overall it was a good half from Real. Lovely positional fluidity, they were pressing well, they were organised, and if the hosts had any chance of scoring, it was to feed the ball quickly to the left, where Real had done enough to stop that danger. But that all changed after the break.
As good as Madrid were in the first half, as quick as they were, the speed in which they were playing at collapsed and it turned into such a poor showing. First, Casemiro conceded a silly free-kick. From that set-piece, Dani Carvajal was wrestling and hugging Antonio Barragán in the box, right in front of the referee – who pointed straight to the spot. Penalty given, penalty scored by Fidel Chaves.
They even had the better chance to go ahead, Madrid just weren’t interested in responding to the equaliser. By the hour mark, there were no signs of substitutions from Zidane, but there was danger for his defenders. Rigoni went on a dazzling run from within his own box, to set up Lucas Boye who had done so well all game to occupy Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. The forward turned and hit the post with his effort, with Courtois well beaten, despite being at full-stretch.
Around the 70th minute mark, Madrid decided to wake up. And there were three solid opportunities to win the game. First, Kroos picked out Carvajal who made a darting run, and after he switched it onto his left foot, the right-back’s shot was brilliantly kept out by Catalan-born Édgar Badía.
Badía was needed again, after Kroos and Carvajal combined yet again moments later. Carvajal’s cross fell kindly to Ramos after Barragan fluffed his clearance – but Badia was quickly off his line to deny Madrid’s captain from very close range. If that was a good chance, the best was yet to come.
Just before stoppage time, Modric was the man who was going to create an opportunity if any to win it, and he did. The scorer of the opening goal, delayed and delayed his pass, before opening up Elche straight down the center of their defence, with a cross for Karim Benzema who put his glancing header wide, when it looked like a simple finish.
With the last kick of the game though, Elche may have recorded an unlikely victory. Gonzalo Verdú struck a beautiful free-kick over the wall, which Courtois had to dive to punch away. Another agonizing fixture for the defending champions, who seemingly enjoy making their own lives more difficult. Points dropped against Cadiz, Deportivo Alaves and now Elche – unacceptable.
It leaves them now two points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid, who also have two games in hand, ahead of a difficult next match against a dangerous team which also happens to be in-form.
Up next for Real Madrid?
Who? Celta Vigo
When? Saturday 2nd January @ 21:00 CET
Where? Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano