Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid – When Santi Solari took a glance at his wristwatch there were two minutes of stoppage time left to play. His Real Madrid side – albeit most likely only temporarily – were just two minutes away from their fifth victory in eleven league matches on his debut in the dugout. Taking this job, in the circumstances in which it arose, was a risk even for a well-liked Real man like Solari.
And yet given the situation, with Julen Lopetegui’s time in the capital coming to an end following last weekend’s Clasico hammering, the most vital of outcomes from this match at the Santiago Bernabeu was a victory. At last, it was coming. Naturally confidence and moral have been low around Real for a little while – the usually boisterous stand housing the ‘noisy’ Madridistas was silent in the opening minutes, but that was more in protest than anything else.
Of course, the performances and quality of the players in white must meet the high expectations that Real fans have, but in times of trouble, grit and determination are highly valued too. Solari called for ‘balls’ from his players in his first press conference, hinting that the stars of Madrid have not been giving their all in recent weeks. Aggression, fight and sustained quality have all been lacking from Los Blancos, so has luck.
There was no question that Zinedine Zidane had his fair share of luck when leading Real to three consecutive Champions League victories. Most great teams – and managers – need it. In many ways, luck comes hand in hand with bravery: Zidane showed both. Although he was not the most tactically astute coach, he knew how to effectively manage the Madrid dressing room. As Sergio Ramos indirectly inferred last week, Zidane earned respect rather than imposing it.
What luck Zidane had though was not afforded to his successor Julen Lopetegui. The former Real coach lamented his “bad fortune” after almost every game, and to an extent he had a point. The hand that Lopetegui had been dealt was by no means the easiest, and despite only having a few months in the role, he was unable to change their fortunes.
Solari – from first inspections at least – appears to have what the Spanish call “the flower in his bum”, which essentially means that he has fortune on his side. Against Real Valladolid he rolled the dice and won, but that was after an opening 45 minutes in which Real turned up with the expectation that a win will just occur for them. No work needed, little aggression and a rather large heap of complacency, Real were tepid and unfit for battle in one of the most competitive seasons the league has seen.
Despite their recent successes, Real have not been a marauding attacking team, but rather efficient match-winners. So far this campaign, Los Blancos have not been able to manufacture encouraging results, let alone performances. The second-half showing on Saturday afternoon was an improvement; there was more character and an increase in quality.
One of Solari’s changes in particular influenced proceedings. Following a first half that resembled many of those that have gone before in the past three months, the Argentine coach made changes. Vinicius Junior came on for the late stages of the match, but Solari’s faith in the youngster was repaid. Fine margins dictate football matches, and this game could have quite easily gone the way of Valladolid, who were above Real in the table going into the match.
But the new coach’s changes ensured that the game swung in Madrid’s favour. Casemiro’s departure left Real without defensive balance in midfield and twice the visitors struck the woodwork once he had departed. Thibaut Coutois was also called upon to make a super save, whilst Valladolid also spurned two very good opportunities.
But then the spark came. The lightening bolt that everyone in white had been waiting for. Vinicius had not quite impacted the game until he took up possession on the left with only seven minutes remaining. He ran into the box between two Valladolid defenders before unleashing a shot which was travelling substantially wide. That was until a huge deflection off Kiko Olivas wrong-footed goalkeeper Jordi Masip, and it ended up in the net. Luck had returned to the Bernabeu and so it seemed had a victory.
Solari’s risk of playing Vinicius, after Lopetegui only afforded him just 12 minutes in his 14 games in charge, reaped the desired reward. A few minutes later and Solari could breathe a sigh of relief. Madrid won a penalty and the fans called for the young Brazilian to step up and take it, but instead Sergio Ramos sent it past Masip.
The supporters’ need for a new superstar, following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, was palpable. No matter how managers try to readdress the formation of the Real squad and team, the president and fans have a much bigger say and that will be an interesting plot line when the new permanent head coach is appointed.
Luck and character saw Solari over the line in his first league match at Real. “I would like to win every game 7-0 with three scissor kicks!” he said post-match. “But football is something else and there are delicate moments.” What the game did offer was a potential new Madrid star in Vinicius and, if Florentino Perez sees the match in the same way, a coach with fortune on his side in Solari.
Under Zidane, Real did not perform as well as three consecutive European triumphs suggests, but a winning mentality and a carefully managed dressing room led the team of stars to victory. Ensuring that the complacency which has crept into Madrid this season is disposed of quickly, and that performances feature more aggression and character are the immediate concerns. Having luck as a football manager is a vital commodity and in his opening league match at the helm, Solari showed that he might well have his fair share.
Los Otros Puntos
There was also luck to be found in southern Madrid for Real’s great rivals. Barcelona fought back from 2-1 down to beat Rayo Vallecano. In total, three La Liga matches took place in Madrid on Saturday afternoon featuring four Madrid-based teams. In truth, Rayo performed the best but were the only ones not to pick up a point. Respect has to be paid to Barcelona and especially Luis Suarez who scored another two at Vallecas following last week’s hatrick against Madrid.
In many ways this was a Suarez-type of match: competitive, spirited and intense. His goals bookmarked the game with the winner coming in the last minute. The delirium in the 87th minute had turned to disappointment by the 90th and it was harsh that Rayo were unable to at least pick up a much-earned point having had more chances on goal than Barcelona. It leaves La Blaugrana top with 24 points and Rayo still in the relegation zone.
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What a comeback! Barca managed to bring it back in the last 10 minutes of the game to take home the 3 points ?
Rayo Vallecano 2-3 Barcelona pic.twitter.com/pQkKdqzcNh
— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) November 3, 2018
“A great Canales goal ends the party” was Diario AS’s headline and what a party it was. Real Betis scored in the first half of a La Liga game for the first time this season. In the second half, the goals kept on coming. Loren’s goal on 33 minutes and Junior Firpo’s strike put Betis in command. A brace from Maxi Gomez and Brais Mendez’s strike saw Celta Vigo turn the match around, however. It was a topsy-turvy affair and one that you couldn’t take your eyes off. Sergio Canales’ late free-kick ensured both left with a point and all neutrals were fully satisfied.
Absolute scenes at the Benito Villamarin! ?
Celta Vigo bring it back from being 2-0 down only for Sergio Canales to respond with this stunning free kick ?
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo pic.twitter.com/LqI4m6VP3Q
— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) November 4, 2018
Alaves missed the chance to go second in La Liga after conceding a stoppage-time goal against Eibar. Both sides had a player sent off in what was a fiery Basque encounter. Alaves took control early on when Manu Garcia scored in the 4th minute but the hosts fought back with the winner from Pape Diop arriving in the 90th minute.
Without a win in five and little sign of fortunes changing, Javier Calleja at Villarreal could well be the next coach to be dismissed.
Leganes 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid 2-0 Valladolid
Valencia 0-1 Girona
Rayo Vallecano 2-3 Barcelona
Eibar 1-0 Alaves
Villarreal 1-1 Levante
Real Sociedad 0-0 Sevilla
Huesca 1-1 Getafe
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo
Espanyol – Athletic Bilbao (on Monday)