Rafael Benitez’s Real Madrid held in Liga opener against Sporting Gijon

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Estadio Javier Estrada, La Liga – Sporting Gijon 0 Real Madrid 0

Rafael Benitez’s La Liga bow as Real Madrid manager ended in frustration, as a stubborn Sporting Gijon side held out for a well-earned goalless draw.

The result means the Galacticos already find themselves trailing rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona after the opening round of league fixtures, with questions over a lack of attacking creativity sure to be posed of the new Real Madrid manager.

The home side actually came closest to breaking the deadlock, with Antonio Sanabria crashing a header off the underside of the bar and off the line in the first half, as Sporting Gijon went toe-to-toe with Real Madrid.

Gareth Bale – who was used as a central striker in the absence of the injuredKarim Benzema – and Cristiano Ronaldo both came close to finding the net, but were forced to settle for a point in a frustrating Liga opener for Real.

KEY EVENTS

10’ FIRST RONALDO FREE-KICK! The Portuguese winger lines up his first set piece of the new season, but just as was the case so often last term… he blasts it straight into the wall.

14’ INTO THE SIDE NETTING! What a great chance for Bale. He rounded the keeper but ended up too wide. He took the shot and hit the side netting, when he probably should have squared it for Ronaldo.

20’ JESE COMES CLOSE! The ball is sprayed out to the right side, with Jese striding on to the pass. He smashes the shot across the face of goal, but the effort flashes wide of the far post.

21’ NOW ISCO HAS THE SHOT! The Spanish international decides to make a move early this time and lashes an effort wide of the post. There was some amount of power in that drive!

28’ ISCO SHOULD HAVE HIT THE TARGET! That was a real chance for Real Madrid, who shifted the ball around nicely to create the chance. But Isco blasts over the bar from about 18 yards out.

34’ GOOD EFFORT BY RONALDO! The Real Madrid number seven takes the shot from about 20 yards, with the ball arrowing into the bottom corner. ButCuellar makes the stop low down.

37’ OFF THE CROSSBAR AND DOWN OFF THE LINE! Incredibly Sporting Gijon come within inches of an opener! Sanabria beats Varane to the header and smashes a header off the woodwork, but the ball didn’t cross all of the line!

38’ RONALDO WANTS A PENALTY KICK! The ball is crossed into the Sporting Gijon box, with Ronaldo seemingly dragged back by Hernandez. But the referee decides that it wasn’t a spot kick.

49’ SO CLOSE TO A SPORTING OPENER! A cross into the box is deflected, with Carmona beating Marcelo to the header 10 yards out. But he directs his effort past the post with Navas beaten.

55’ RONALDO SHOOTS AT GOAL! For perhaps the first time this match, Ronaldo cuts inside off the left side and fires off a shot at shot, but Cuellar is behind the effort and makes the save.

64’ THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE OPENER! Isco’s corner kick is perfect for Bale, who lost his marker. But the Real Madrid number 11 can only direct his header straight at Cuellar.

69’ HE MUST HAVE SEEN IT LATE! The cross comes into the Sporting Gijon box from the left wing, but Ronaldo doesn’t make a connection when he probably should have. He must have seen it late.

86’ RONALDO SHOT, CUELLAR STOP! That was an outstanding save from the Sporting Gijon keeper! Ronaldo hit that with so much power, but Cuellar prevents it from finding the top corner.

KEY STATS

Just like José Mourinho, Rafa Benitez has started his Real Madrid managerial career with a 0-0 draw in La Liga.

TALKING POINT – Is playing Gareth Bale through the middle really such a good idea?

It’s something that worked reasonably well for Andre Villas-Boas at Spurs, but at least Bale was used as a number 10 in that case. Now Benitez views the Welshman as a centre forward, playing him as a number nine in a number 11 shirt against Sporting Gijon. It was a ploy that didn’t really work, with Real Madrid struggling for creativity and invention in the final third. It’s not that Bale isn’t a good player, it’s just that central striker doesn’t seem to be the position for him.

MAN OF THE MATCH – Luka Modric

Real Madrid really missed the Croatian midfielder when he was injured last season, and Benitez has spoken about just how important Luka Modric is to his side. He was the one dictating play from the centre of the pitch, with his first half pass through for Gareth Bale to round the keep (and eventually hit the side-netting) an exceptional piece of skill and vision. Modric will be central to any success Real Madrid have this season.

PLAYER RATINGS

Sporting Gijon – Cuellar 7, Lora 7, Hernandez 6, Bernardo 6, Lopez 6, Alvarez 6, Cases 5, Carmona 7, Jony 7, Sanabria 7, Guerrero 6. Subs – Muniz 6, Menendez 5, Rachid 5.

Real Madrid – Navas 5, Danilo 6, Varane 6, Ramos 6, Marcelo 6, Kroos 6, Modric 8, Isco 6, Bale 5, Ronaldo 6, Jese 5. Subs – James 5, Kovacic 5, Carvajal.

SOURCE: eurosport