Believe it or not, it can be very cold in Madrid, as it was for the 58,129 fans watching Sunday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu in zero degrees.
“Hopefully they’ll finish the building work soon and close the roof so we’re a bit warmer!” joked Thibaut Courtois, who had the luxury of wearing gloves, referring to the ongoing refurbishment of Real Madrid’s home ground.
But what made both Madrid supporters and Courtois truly suffer was the scoreline: a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad leaves Carlo Ancelotti’s side five points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, who look as if they are finding ways to win whatever the circumstances.
Not at all like Madrid, who played “one of the best games of the season, from start to finish”, as Ancelotti himself put it, but failed to score for the first time in La Liga this season.
Madrid seemed to forget the old Spanish adage ‘dress me slowly, I’m in a hurry’, the meaning of which phrase suggests urgent tasks are best completed with less haste and more speed.
Ancelotti had only a few days earlier complained about his team’s poor first-half performances and from the outset, the home side went straight for goal as they started at a much quicker tempo than in recent matches.
As a result, Madrid ended the match with 20 shots in total. But unlike in their previous league outing, where at Athletic Bilbao they registered 10 shots and won 2-0, here they could not find the breakthrough.
The team made a league season high of 60 attempted dribbles and hit the target seven times, but Sociedad’s defence and goalkeeper Alex Remiro stood strong, well supported by Martin Zubimendi’s continuous efforts in midfield.
And in the closing stages, with so much energy spent, Madrid seemed to lack a plan B. The introduction of Luka Modric and Marco Asensio with about 15 minutes to play did not provide the impetus they needed. If anything, it was Sociedad who finished the stronger.
Madrid’s expected goals figure for the night was 1.28. When they beat Barcelona 3-1 here in October, it was 1.14. When they beat Bilbao 2-0 at San Mames, it was 1.11.
This was one of their better performances of late, but they could not find the net.
Camavinga and Vinicius Junior, a new left-wing alliance?
The partnership between Eduardo Camavinga and Vinicius Jr down Madrid’s left was impressive. They were the team’s main protagonists in attack and were involved in 48% of all their side’s offensive moves in the second half.
Camavinga, playing at left-back to cover the injured Ferland Mendy, occupied a position more familiar to a left-winger and put in a great performance, his fourth in a row in different roles across defence and midfield.
His running and attacking threat left more room for Vinicius Jr to unleash his dribbling skills. The Brazilian played with supreme confidence and flair, making 21 attempted dribbles, the highest recorded in a La Liga match since at least the 2005-06 season, according to Opta.
But that didn’t save him from being told off by Ancelotti, who on the pitch seemed to ask him to take fewer risks. And Vinicius Jr had what was perhaps Madrid’s best chance of the night, a one-on-one with Remiro in the second half, but saw his effort blocked.
“I saw him take two little steps to get comfortable and that made me wary,” said the goalkeeper after the match. “I imagined he was going to do something only he can but in the end, I stopped it.”
Remiro made seven stops, the highest figure of his La Liga season so far, and was praised by ex-Madrid and Spain captain Iker Casillas, who compared him to Luis Arconada, the best goalkeeper in Sociedad’s history.
Sociedad were looking for their sixth consecutive league win and that they created chances to do it was quite a feat considering their nine injury absentees included key midfielders Mikel Merino and David Silva.
Even though they did not achieve their objective, with Takefusa Kubo denied several times by Courtois, Imanol Alguacil’s side came away with a point and remain third in the table.
The manager said: “Although I have a lot of respect for Madrid, and they are the best team if not one of the best in La Liga and in Europe, I value my team, no matter who they face.”
His phrase can be understood as a declaration of intent from a team that wants to do big things this season, and that looks capable of it, too. Ten years ago, Sociedad finished fourth in La Liga and qualified for the Champions League, with Antoine Griezmann starring in attack. Having now played half of their matches this campaign, they look well-placed to return to the competition.
(Top photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Read the full article here