Sporting Gijon couldn’t have wished for a more difficult start to the La Liga season, as the fixtures threw out an opening day duel with Real Madrid.
‘Los Blancos’ would surely record a victory against a newly promoted and heavily inferior side, or so they thought.
Rafa Benitez’ side were expected to controlled the game, score a few goals and win comfortably. In reality, Sporting Gijon produced an exceptional battling performance to shut out Madrid and claim a 0-0 draw against the European giants.
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Through hard work, organisation and bounds of desire, Gijon frustrated the La Liga giants and truly deserved their result. It was great to see.
Not so for Benitez. Cue various Spanish media outlets and newspapers already putting pressure on the Spaniard, heavily criticising his tactics and some even suggesting increasing tension between himself and Cristiano Ronaldo.
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Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho and many others are living proof that no one is immune to the famous Real Madrid axe if results and performances are not produced on a regular basis.
Let’s put things into perspective though. Real Madrid did not play terribly well but they were not poor by any means, they had several excellent chances and on another day they would have won comfortably.
They also should have had a clear penalty when Ronaldo was clearly wrestled to the ground in the penalty area. Ronaldo himself had a number of good chances but was uncharacteristically poor with his finishing. You can't envisage that happening again.
It’s far too soon for people to write off Benitez after just 90 minutes of league football but there were some aspects of their play that Madrid fans are right to be concerned about. Chief of which, the front three were not linking up with any understanding or fluidity.
Looking at the statistics after the game, the passing combinations between Bale and Ronaldo in particular were very low indeed.
It was also clear that Ronaldo has been told by Benitez to stay on the left hand side of the pitch to stretch the game but Ronaldo found himself drifting into his favoured position as a central number 9, leaving Bale with no space and narrowing Madrid’s attacking play, thus making it easier for the opposition to defend.
This is one of Benitez’ many challenges in his new role as Ronaldo is desperate to play centrally, so when Benzema returns, we could see a switch to a 4-4-2.
Real Madrid may have their problems but so do a lot of sides at this early stage in the season, its clear that what the manager needs now is time. Time however, is not something you usually get at the Santiago Bernabeu.