Fightback spirit lacking: Benitez

Real Madrid drew first blood against Sevilla on Sunday through this shot from defender Sergio Ramos, but went on to lose 2-3. Real will face Barcelona, who are now three points clear, on Nov 21.
Real Madrid drew first blood against Sevilla on Sunday through this shot from defender Sergio Ramos, but went on to lose 2-3. Real will face Barcelona, who are now three points clear, on Nov 21.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MADRID • Rafael Benitez lamented his side's inability to react after going behind for the first time this season as he suffered his first defeat as Real Madrid manager on Sunday.

The 2-3 loss at Sevilla allowed a Neymar-inspired Barcelona, 3-0 winners over Villarreal, to move three points clear at the top of La Liga with the two Spanish football giants set to face each other at the Santiago Bernabeu on Nov 21.

Real got off to a flying start when Sergio Ramos' spectacular overhead kick gave them the lead. But, after Ramos went off with the recurrence of a shoulder problem, the visitors fell apart as Ciro Immobile levelled before the break.

Ever Banega and Fernando Llorente added two more goals for Sevilla, before James Rodriguez pulled one back in stoppage time.

"We played very well for 30 minutes. We had a lot of control," said Benitez. "Then we allowed them to score from a set-piece and that transformed the game.

"In the second half we started well, but from the second goal we started to commit errors and they took advantage of that to score the third goal. We scored again at the last minute but it wasn't enough."

When Banega finished off a brilliant team move on the hour, it was the first time Real had even been behind in 15 games this season.

Benitez criticised his side's failure to respond when finally put in an adverse situation.

"We lacked know-how in managing the situation. We found it difficult to react," he said.

Real's display was in stark contrast to that of arch-rivals Barcelona, who smothered Villarreal - with their in-form forwards Neymar (twice) and Luis Suarez on target again.

Having already scored and with Barca cruising at 2-0 with five minutes left, Neymar fashioned a masterpiece - cushioning the ball on his chest, flicking it with the back of his heel insolently over the top of his head, befuddling defender Jaume Costa while simultaneously spinning to strike his volley into the net - leaving the Nou Camp crowd wondering if it might even have eclipsed some of their absent hero Lionel Messi's finest works.

Neymar and Suarez lead Barcelona with 13 goals each this season and have scored 20 of the side's 23 goals since Messi tore a ligament in his left knee in September.

They are giving fans hope that they will not need Messi to get a good result at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Fightback spirit lacking: Benitez'. Print Edition | Subscribe