Real Madrid go top despite Sporting stalemate

By Mark Carter
Photo: José Porras

Photo: José Porras

Sporting de Gijon 0 – 0 Real Madrid

The pressure on under-fire Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini mounted on Saturday night following the club’s first goalless draw in La Liga for over two and a half years – despite his side currently holding the top-spot in the table.

Frustration is growing within both the fans and the Madrid press after seeing their beloved club suffer defeats in the two fixtures – away to Sevilla and home to AC Milan in midweek – that were billed as real tests of the newly-formed second era of galacticos.

Pellegrini will be only too aware that even the most coveted of success does not guarantee a coach’s position at the helm of Spain’s most illustrious club, with both Vicente del Bosque and Fabio Capello being shown the door immediately after winning La Liga titles, and the disjointed manner in which his team plays must improve.

Regardless of the club entering the game against Sporting with the most prolific goal-scoring record in Europe, an over-reliance on the directness of Cristiano Ronaldo has become apparent – Real having lost two of the three matches the Portuguese winger has missed – and Pellegrini has yet to gel his side of superstars into a team.

The Chilean coach omitted £30 million summer-arrival Karim Benzema from his starting line-up for the trip to the El Molinon stadium and was again without Ronaldo, as well as Ruud van Nistlerooy, Lassana Diarra and Gonzalo Higuain, and the lack of potency in attack led to Real failing to find the net in a game for the first time this season.

Sporting began the brightest and looked to get in-behind the Real backline at every opportunity – creating their first chance after nine minutes.

The impressive Luis Moran curled in a dangerous ball from the right flank that fell onto the boot of Miguel De las Cuevas, but the former Atletico Madrid forward couldn’t control his volley and hit the ball wide of Iker Casillas’ left-hand post.

Five minutes later, Sporting again threatened with a cross into the box. Casillas could only flap at the ball, resulting in it falling at the feet of a surprised Luis Moran who was caught off-guard and mis-hit his shot wide.

Real were second-best for the first quarter of the game – only producing an effort through Kaka 18-yards out that was palmed wide – but they started to settle and control possession soon after.

However, the next attempt at goal came from Sporting and it was De las Cuevas – looking to add to the four goals he had notched in his last two games – who headed over after mis-timing his leap following a well-worked free-kick.

Pellegrini’s side almost snatched a lead on the half-hour mark from Esteban Granero’s corner-kick.

Raul – Real’s all-time leading goalscorer – struck an effort wide on the turn after the ball broke loose from a melee inside the six-yard box.

A header glanced tamely-wide by Sporting’s David Barral on 34 minutes further questioned Real’s defence and exposed a huge gap between full-back Sergio Ramos and centre-half Pepe.

Casillas was forced into his first save shortly before half-time – getting down low at his near post to block another attempt by De las Cuevas.

The second-half began at a higher tempo than the first as the driving rain lashed down and a fantastic save by Sporting’s 41-year-old stopper, Juan Pablo, denied Real a certain lead.

A swift counter-attack involving Ramos and Kaka saw the elegant Brazilian cut the ball back for Granero – known as ‘el pirate’ (the pirate) – to strike the ball low towards Juan Pablo’s left-hand post from five yards, only for his shot to be blocked brilliantly by the veteran goalkeeper.

Sporting sat back after the hour mark and invited Real to apply pressure.

Juan Pablo was called into action again on 65 minutes by Kaka’s curling free-kick 20 yards from goal and again denied Real an opener by pushing the ball around the post.

Raul had the ball in the net on 78 minutes, but the goal was ruled out after the referee adjudged Kaka to have handled prior to feeding the iconic striker though on goal.

A frantic end to the game saw the frustration of Pellegrini’s team boil-over as Mahamadou Diarra confronted Sporting midfielder Alberto Rivera following a fairly innocuous challenge – resulting in a booking for both players.

The volume in what was a vibrant and lively El Molinon reached a crescendo at the final-whistle as the jubilant home crowd celebrated a worthy point in a draw that sent Real temporarily to the top of La Liga on goal-difference prior to Barcelona’s meeting with Zaragoza in the Camp Nou this evening.

Sporting: Juan Pablo, Lora, Botia, Gregory, Canella, Michel, Rivera, Luis Moran (Soto, 81), De las Cuevas (Carmelo, 75), Castro, Barral (Bilic, 64)

Real: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Garay (Albiol, 65), Marcelo, Diarra, Alonso (Van der Vaart, 77), Granero, Kaka, Drenthe (Guti, 58), Raul

Man of the Match: Juan Pablo – His superb save to deny Granero shortly after the break prevented Real taking the lead and the initiative in a tightly-contested game.

Saturday’s other La Liga results:
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Mallorca
Sevilla 0-0 Espanyol

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