Benitez draws little joy

Real are held 0-0 in first La Liga match while rivals Barcelona earn hard-fought 1-0 victory

Sporting Gijon's players like Isma Lopez (left) are not overawed by Real Madrid's stars like Cristiano Ronaldo as they hold out for a goalless draw, heaping pressure on new Real manager Rafael Benitez.
Sporting Gijon's players like Isma Lopez (left) are not overawed by Real Madrid's stars like Cristiano Ronaldo as they hold out for a goalless draw, heaping pressure on new Real manager Rafael Benitez.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MADRID • Real Madrid's coach Rafael Benitez said last week that he was not concerned about his side's relative goal drought in their final warm-up matches before they began their latest La Liga campaign at newly-promoted Sporting Gijon.

Those words came back to haunt him on Sunday as his expensively assembled Spanish football team were held to a 0-0 draw at Gijon's Molinon stadium.

The likes of Fifa Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive player, drew a blank.

It was a triumph for modest Gijon, whose annual budget in 2014-15 was more than 100 times smaller than Real's. And Benitez was left bemoaning a lack of shooting accuracy from his players but insisting he was still optimistic Real could secure silverware this term.

Despite aiming 27 shots on goal, Real could not overcome a side playing their first match on the return to the Primera Liga.


  • Athletic Bilbao 0 Barcelona 1

    Levante 1 Celta Vigo 2

    Real Betis 1 Villarreal 1

    Sporting Gijon 0 Real Madrid 0

    Atletico Madrid 1 Las Palmas 0

    Deportivo La Coruna 0 Real Sociedad 0

    Rayo Vallecano 0 Valencia 0

    Espanyol 1 Getafe0

    Malaga 0 Sevilla 0

The result means that Real have failed to score in five games since returning to work this summer.

There are doubts about the effectiveness of Benitez's plan to give Bale a free role behind the defence although the coach believes it will be a matter of time before things start to work out.

Benitez, 55, replaced the sacked Carlo Ancelotti after Real failed to win the Champions League, La Liga or the King's Cup last season.

"We finished up playing a 4-3-3 formation to try to keep the players who could score high up the pitch, have more control in the middle and have the full-backs offer width," he said.

"I think that we managed all that but we lacked precision in the final ball and weren't clinical enough in front of goal. It's a matter of steadily improving our precision, our physical fitness and the way we function as a unit."

Real's next La Liga outing is at home to Real Betis on Saturday, when the demanding fans at the Bernabeu will be expecting entertaining football and a resounding victory. Anything less and Benitez could already be subjected to the angry whistling that dogged Ancelotti's second and final season.

Captain Sergio Ramos said there was no need to worry about the recent lack of goals.

"Obviously, the first half didn't go well and, while we had more possession and had more of the initiative in the second, our chances didn't finish in goals and we weren't able to kill off the game," the Spain international said. "This shows there are teams in the first division that fully deserve to be here and it is going to be very tough to win at every stadium. We must keep improving."

Arch-rivals Barcelona kicked off their title defence with a scrappy and hard-fought 1-0 win away to Athletic Club Bilbao.

A Luis Suarez volley early in the second half, after Lionel Messi had seen a first-half penalty saved by Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz, gave Barca the points against the side who had beaten them in the Supercup earlier in the week.

Athletic started with five players out injured and would lose Mikel Balenziaga as well.

The team also had players with tired legs following a European game on Thursday.

Barca's Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets were also forced out of the match with injuries.

But, despite Athletic pressing them hard for most of the game, Suarez's volley, which came from a Jordi Alba cross, would prove decisive.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Benitez draws little joy'. Print Edition | Subscribe