Rafael Benitez’s tenure as a Real Madrid coach didn’t quite start as he would’ve wanted it to. The Blancos lacked ideas against a rigid and well organised Sporting de Gijón defence, as the match ended in a tame, goalless draw. Madrid had 27 shots on goal, but their inability to make any clear-cut chances has given them a bad start to their 2015-16 La Liga campaign. And new boss Benitez is already under strict scrutiny of the fans and the Spanish media.
Benitez’s decision to bench James Rodriguez and play Jese Rodriguez instead of the Colombian has been a major talking point. James was arguably the most creative player for Real Madrid last season, and was expected to start the match against Gijon on Sunday. But Benitez preferred Jese instead of James and the move backfired as the young Spanish forward failed to make any kind of impact on the match.
Madrid saw most of the ball, but were still kept at bay from the Gijon defence, who themselves came the closest to scoring when Antonio Sanabria hit the post in the first half. Benitez’s decision to play Bale in the no. 10 role was also questioned as the Welshman, though better than expected, was not up to the mark in his passing and missed a glorious chance when he hit the side netting from a tight angle. Ronaldo showed glimpses of quality, but the Portuguese superstar was not at this level best throughout the game.
The introduction of James into the squad in the second half surely sprung some life into the Blancos as they progressed towards being more dangerous and creative in their passing. Modric was wonderful and Isco was classy as usual, and Kroos’ passes were yet again up to the mark, but Madrid lacked that killer instinct provided by Karim Benzema, as the Frenchman is still sidelined through injury.
“We went for the game, but we were lacking the final pass,” Benitez said afterwards. “We had a lot of shots, but we lacked precision. We need to improve and we have to keep working. But I’m optimistic. We have to make some adjustments,” Benitez added. “In order to get the best out of the players in attack, there needs to be certain freedom. But there was a lack of space.”
These lines from Benitez summed up the kind of performance that Real Madrid gave on Sunday. And though Madrid have the quality and the ability to out-class any opponent on their day, they will be playing catch-up to Barcelona from the starting of the league.