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Pressure mounts on Lopetegui as Madrid beaten by Levante

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Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui barking instructions, but to no avail as the Spanish league giants fall to a humiliating 2-1 home defeat to Levante. © AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS

Madrid, Spain, Oct 20 – Real Madrid failed to ease the pressure on coach Julen Lopetegui and instead set the record for the longest goal-drought in the club’s history during a surprise 2-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday.

Madrid have now gone five games without a victory and when Marcelo gave them hope of a comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu, they had gone 481 minutes of normal time without a goal too.

The club’s previous worst run had been 464 minutes, in 1985.

For a team that prides itself on flair and flamboyance, it is a streak that reflects just as badly on Lopetegui as the results, which could leave Real Madrid four points adrift of Barcelona later on Saturday, with a ‘Clasico’ to come next weekend at the Camp Nou.

Asked about his future, Lopetegui said: “It is the last thing I am thinking about. I am thinking only about lifting the players.”

Marcelo said: “We are with the coach until the death.”

If Barca’s players were watching, they would have been licking their lips at the sight of Raphael Varane handing Levante a two-goal lead here after just 13 minutes. Jose Luis Morales and Roger Marti, from the penalty spot, were the beneficiaries.

At the final whistle, Lopetegui stood on the touchline, with his hands on his hips, staring ahead in disbelief.

He had left Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema on the bench, perhaps due to fitness issues, and the gamble backfired, despite both making a difference when brought on in the second half.

Lopetegui had cited a lack of luck in recent weeks and Madrid were not blessed with it here.

They hit the crossbar twice and the post once. They suffered a two-goal swing as a result of the Video Assistant Referee, one against called as a penalty, and one ruled out for offside.

“I’m sure football will eventually give back to us what it is taking away,” Lopetegui said.

But a single goal, from their 30-year-old left-back, in over eight hours is no fluke, and neither are the defensive lapses that could have seen Levante add more to their early double.

Paco Lopez took charge of Levante in March and oversaw eight wins from 11 to avoid relegation. This season they are now seventh, a point behind Madrid.

“I told the guys talent has its limits, but faith and conviction do not,” Lopez said. “This team believes in what they are doing.”

– Scatty Madrid –

Gareth Bale has his head in his hands, summing up Real Madrid’s mood after another loss © AFP / GABRIEL BOUYS

Levante were two up in 13 minutes and both came from Varane mistakes. The first was more blatant as he misjudged the flight of Sergio Postigo’s through ball, allowing Morales to nick it round Thibaut Courtois and fire into the open net.

It got worse as Varane handled and VAR advised the error had been inside the box. Roger converted the penalty.

For the rest of the half, Madrid were scatty and imprecise, their finishing spoiled by bad luck but a lack of composure too.

VAR proved their undoing again, ruling Marco Asensio’s follow-up offside after Casemiro headed against the crossbar. Mariano was also denied by the woodwork while Ramos and Lucas Vazquez missed from three yards.

At half-time, there were a scattering of white handkerchiefs — the traditional expression of discontent — but more whistles. After the restart, the home fans sang “echale huevos”, meaning, “play with some balls”.

Lopetegui had thrown Bale on at the interval while Benzema and Dani Ceballos were introduced on the hour. Not before the 56th minute, when Madrid’s drought became their longest ever.

Benzema shot straight at Oier Olazabal, who then pushed a bending Bale free-kick wide. Finally, Madrid scored, with that pair involved again as Bale flicked on to Benzema and Marcelo drove home.

Madrid believed as Benzema struck the far post with a curling effort and Mariano thought he had grabbed an equaliser in the 87th minute. The striker, however, had strayed just offside. For Madrid, it was not to be.

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