After beating Valencia 4-1 at the Mestalla last weekend, Real Madrid were unable to overcome to the city’s other top flight side in Saturday night’s 2-2 draw with Levante.
Zinedine Zidane made one change to the lineup that crushed Valencia one week prior, as captain Sergio Ramos returned to the heart of the defence alongside Raphael Varane at the expense of Nacho.
Kepa’s signature on the dotted line of a new deal at Athletic Club, despite Florentino Perez’s best efforts, meant Keylor Navas continued in goal against his former club.
Levante had not won in La Liga at the Estadi Ciutat de València since September, but stole a draw at the Santiago Bernabeu in the reverse fixture this season, giving them some reason to hope.
Deadline day signing, 33-year-old Giampaolo Pazzini was slung in among the subs by manager Juan Muniz for the hosts, while Coke was the only of Levante’s seven January additions to make the starting lineup.
After an opening ten minutes in which the visitors dominated, Marcelo’s skewed drive following a neat interchange with Karim Benzema earned a corner and the returning Ramos rose above the defence to open the scoring with a characteristic header.
While the power from Ramos’ connection wasn’t unstoppable, Benzema’s movement in front of former Barcelona man Oier Olazabal caused enough of a distraction to allow the ball to wriggle into the far corner.
The visitors continued to probe prior to the half-time whistle, and Cristiano Ronaldo came closest to doubling Los Blancos’ advantage as he pounced on Oier’s spill after Toni Kroos bent an effort from outside the 18-yard box. However, the Ballon d’Or holder’s angle was cut by the reactions of the keeper, who made the block from point blank with his face.
The Granotas responded gamely to the early goal without ever really threatening their former keeper’s net, until three minutes before the break when Jose Morales found himself in behind Ramos from Sasa Lukic’s raking through ball.
Navas did well to block the initial effort but 21-year-old Emmanuel Boateng made no mistake with the rebound, stroking home into the far corner past the lunge of Varane for the equaliser and his first league goal of the season.
While the home side might have felt fortunate to go into halftime level, after holding less than 30% possession in the opening 45, Muniz’ side went into the second period with renewed vigour and confidence.
Levante might even have taken an unlikely lead around the 55-minute mark when Morales, who caused the visitors all kinds of problems on the counter, charged through before Jefferson Lerma’s volley was bravely by Navas, who (proving he could match anything Oier could do on the night), prevented a certain goal with his face.
Gareth Bale made way for Isco in the 66th minute, as Zidane sought to wrestle back control in the tie. However, unwilling to be cowed by the World Champions, Muniz’ sent on attackers Roger Marti and Pazzini in search of a Levante winner.
Real laboured, but the chances came. Isco and Benzema both found openings – with the latter dancing through the home defence, before seeing his effort blocked.
Ramos might’ve doubled his tally from the resulting corner with another header but Oier made up for his earlier indecision on the opener to produce a sharp reflex save.
With just ten minutes left on the clock, substitute Isco seemed to break Levante hearts by slamming home after taking a touch from Benzema’s cut back inside the box.
The France international was lucky to get on the end of Dani Carvajal’s deflected cross, but he took full advantage in laying off for the waiting Isco to restore Real’s advantage.
Visiting fans expecting a casual stroll to the finish line for Zidane’s side were sorely mistaken. Roger Marti should’ve equalised from the excellent Morales’ cross, but nodded just wide from centimetres out.
However, debut-making Pazzini – who promised he was not in Valencia as a tourist upon his arrival two days prior – made no mistake with his finish when he was put through on goal. The veteran poacher snuck his effort under Navas to seal a deserved point for Levante with less than one minute of normal time left.
The draw will be viewed as two points dropped for Real Madrid, who failed to overtake Valencia into third, and have still only won three games back to back once this season.
Leavnte remain just above the drop zone in 17th but Muniz will take more than just the point from this performance.