Madrid leave it late to show strong character at Levante

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Seven days, two different shows of character from Real Madrid.

One showing an alarming lack of team spirit, albeit against a strong team in Atletico Madrid as Los Blancos suffered derby defeat last weekend. The second showing a sense that Madrid are up for the battle in twice coming from behind at Levante to leave with all three points and a 3-2 win.

It could have been so different at the Ciudad de Valencia, a ground where Madrid has found the going tough in recent seasons. Twice trailing against a plucky and determined Levante side, the talk of a crisis at the Bernabeu could have moved up a gear had Los Blancos suffered back-to-back La Liga losses.

It looked on the cards when substitute Nabir El Zhar kept his cool to fire the hosts ahead with four minutes left. Papa Babacar Diawara had fired Levante ahead as the match burst into life just before the hour mark after a pretty poor first half. Another poor away showing looked the most likely outcome for Carlo Ancelotti's men.

But Madrid hit back. Just four minutes later Sergio Ramos, fired up from the start and determined to put things right following last week's derby loss, got the visitors on level terms and the pressure mounted on the Levante goal.

It came against the run of play when El Zhar held the ball off Diego Lopez, twisted and turned and drilled in a fine goal that seemingly had the points heading to the hosts. The substitute looked to have wasted his chance when the Madrid defence stormed back but he kept his cool to slot his side ahead.

In recent weeks Madrid may have crumbled. With four minutes left the writing was seemingly on the wall. But the visitors, led by substitute Alvaro Morata and Cristiano Ronaldo, showed they're made of stronger stuff than many with a scintillating finish.

Many thought Morata may have started with Ancelotti hinting a rotation of his squad before the match but the Italian stuck with Karim Benzema in attack -- arguably a tougher decision given the stick the Frenchman has received for his below-par performances of late. Benzema hardly inspired but the effort was there, and the support from behind wasn't. It wasn't his easiest night and his performance will not ease the pressure.

If anything, Morata's goal may pile more pressure on Benzema, who has now gone five games without a goal. Morata scored a late winner at the same ground last season late on and his equaliser seemed to be just as important a year later with more crisis talk looming. A point would have not been the end of the world.

But while Morata will get plaudits, the main bulk will be reserved for Ronaldo, who somehow sent Madrid back to the Bernabeu with all three points in a dramatic conclusion. The Portuguese received the ball at the end of the box and sent a powerful drive toward goal, taking a deflection on the way and going in off the inside of the post.

The goal could be one of the most crucial of La Liga this season for Madrid, something highlighted in the lofty celebrations of Madrid's talisman, who raced away and took his shirt off, prompting a yellow card. Ronaldo reserves his most spectacular celebrations for the biggest moments, and this was one of them.

Benzema was eventually replaced by Jese Rodriguez and his frustrating night, again, was perhaps summed up when he got in the way of a Sergio Ramos header that was heading for goal with the scores all-square. Ramos rose above the Levante defence and planted a firm header toward goal, but Benzema blocked it -- and just to rub salt into the wounds he was flagged for offside, too.

As has been said all too often already this season, Madrid were not magical -- far from it. But to show the character to twice come from behind against a tricky opponent away from home and leave with all three points will give Ancelotti and his men a real shot in the arm.


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