Isco the hero as Real Madrid find late winner, down Real Betis, 2-1
In a performance that’s sure to be compared unfavorably with the omnipotence that came before, Real Madrid survived a slow start, got an early assist and late goal from the debuting Isco, and secured three points from Real Betis, downing the Seville side 2-1 in the teams’ Spanish season opener. But with Barcelona having cruised to a 7-0 victory over Levante in the day’s opener, the Merengues’ performance will likely be viewed in an unfavorable light, perhaps unreasonably so.
For around 20 minutes at the Bernabeu, Real Betis were their hosts’ equal, with Cedric (tormenting all day) torching Sergio Ramos to create Jorge Molina’s 14th minute opener. Despite playing on a field apparently tipped toward Stephan Anderson’s goal, Betis kept Los Blancos off the scoresheet until Karim Benzema’s 26th minute opener - a left-footed finished from the left of goal, blasted into the far side netting.
Instead of allowing the floodgates to open, the Andalusians nearly survived through full-time, holding a lineup featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Isco at bay for another hour. That scoresheet, however, flattered Betis, with Real Madrid able to consistently build through the same left side that yielded their first goal. The second half gave the impression a Merengues’ winner was only a matter of time.
In the 86th minute, time finally caught up with Betis, with Real Madrid’s big offseason acquisition paying immediate dividends. Isco, the 21-year-old attacking midfielder bought from Málaga this summer, had already assisted on Benzema’s opener, but a sharp run near full-time to get in front of defender Damien Perquis allowed him to head home a Marcelo cross from six yards out, saving his new club from what would have been a dominant albeit disappointing result.
In the big picture, Real Madrid’s win seems a bit of an archetype - a game where a team dominates throughout (if, in this case, 70-plus minutes) but can’t find a winner until the end. It’s an uncommon but not particularly rare occurrence, though since it was juxtaposed against Barcelona’s dominance, Real Madrid’s going to be depicted as somewhat lacking.
Perhaps that’s fair. Barcelona did win by seven goals. But Real Madrid was facing a much better team, and while their final looks superficially close, they were the much better side.
Carlo Ancelotti also made a number of interesting choices with his XI and setup. Managing his first match in the capital, the team’s lack of familiarity with his tweaks may have influenced the final score.
We’ll dig deeper on those tweaks later (edit: here). For now, a few hours after they’ve finished their openers, it’s hard to avoid the comparisons between Barcelona and Real Madrid.