Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sporting Gijon 0 Real Madrid 0: La Liga newcomers spoil Benitez bow

SoccerNews in La Liga 23 Aug 2015

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Rafael Benitez endured a difficult Real Madrid debut as his new-look side were held 0-0 by La Liga newcomers Sporting Gijon at El Molinon.

The former Napoli boss has the task of building on Carlo Ancelotti’s successful tenure at the Santiago Bernabeu, but the Spaniard has work to do on this showing as his revamped forward line failed to break down an organised Sporting side.

In the absence of the injured Karim Benzema, Jese started up front in a 4-2-3-1 system – ahead of Gareth Bale, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo.

And while Real dominated first-half possession, it was Sporting who went closest to the opener when Antonio Sanabria saw a header rattle the crossbar 10 minutes before the break.

The Paraguay forward seemed to think the ball crossed the line after rebounding down, while Carlos Carmona headed a glorious chance wide early in the second half.

Benitez brought James Rodriguez on prior to the hour, but Real continued to dominate without reward, Abelardo Fernandez’s plucky side standing firm.

New signing Mateo Kovacic showed glimpses of his quality after replacing Isco with 20 minutes left, but there remains plenty for Benitez to ponder, notably his strangely out-of-sorts attacking unit.

Real began the Benitez era on the front foot, Ronaldo’s deep cross almost finding Jese at the far post before Bale enjoyed the visitors’ first opening.

Following a delightful pass from Luka Modric, Bale rounded Pichu Cuellar, but could only find the side-netting from a difficult angle.

Sporting gradually grew into the game on their return to the top flight, but were threatened again when Jese fired across goal, with Isco’s rasping drive dipping narrowly over the crossbar four minutes before the half-hour mark.

Real’s re-jigged front line were kept at bay, however, and while Ronaldo’s long-range strike needed tipping wide by Cuellar, Sanabria came within inches of opening the scoring when his header struck the bar.

A rejected penalty appeal for a coming together involving Ronaldo and Sergio Alvarez added to Real’s frustrations and Carmona almost made things worse when he headed wide from inside the area early in the second half.

Jese made way for Rodriguez before the hour and with Ronaldo up top, Real continued to press – Bale going close with a free-kick and Ronaldo inexplicably missing from close range with a header.

Kovacic was introduced as Sporting began to retreat deeper, but the Croatian failed to make the difference as Marcelo headed over after Ronaldo’s shot was parried.

Cuellar palmed a fierce Ronaldo drive away from danger with seven minutes remaining, while Modric also went close, but there was to be no late winner as Real’s La Liga campaign got off to an inauspicious start.

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