Lack of goals dogs Ben­itez

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MADRID — Real Madrid’s new coach Rafa Ben­itez said last week he was not con­cerned about his side’s rel­a­tive goal drought in their fi­nal warm-up matches be­fore they be­gan their latest La Liga cam­paign at pro­moted Sport­ing Gi­jon.

Those words came back to haunt him on Sun­day as his ex­pen­sively as­sem­bled team were held to a 0-0 draw at Gi­jon’s Moli­non sta­dium, with the likes of FIFA Bal­lon d’or win­ner Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Gareth Bale, the world’s most ex­pen­sive player, draw­ing blanks.

It was a tri­umph for mod­est Gi­jon, whose an­nual bud­get in 2014-15 was more than 100 times smaller than Real’s, while Ben­itez was left be­moan­ing lack of shoot­ing ac­cu­racy from his play­ers but in­sist­ing he was still op­ti­mistic Real can se­cure sil­ver­ware this term.

Ben­itez, who was a player and coach in Real’s academy be­fore stints in charge at clubs in­clud­ing Va­len­cia, Liver­pool, Chelsea, In­ter Mi­lan and Napoli, re­placed the sacked Carlo Ancelotti af­ter Real failed to win the Cham­pi­ons League, La Liga or the King’s Cup last sea­son.

“We fin­ished up play­ing a 4-3-3 for­ma­tion to try to keep the play­ers who could score high up the pitch, have more con­trol in the mid­dle and have the full­backs of­fer width,” Ben­itez told a news con­fer­ence.

“I think that we man­aged all that but lacked pre­ci­sion in the fi­nal ball and weren’t clin­i­cal enough in front of goal,” added the 55-year-old.

“It’s a mat­ter of steadily im­prov­ing our pre­ci­sion, our phys­i­cal fit­ness and the way we func­tion as a unit.”

Real’s next La Liga out­ing is at home to Real Betis on Satur­day, when the de­mand­ing fans at the Bern­abeu will be ex­pect­ing en­ter­tain­ing football and a re­sound­ing vic­tory.

Any­thing less and Ben­itez could al­ready be sub­jected to the an­gry whistling that dogged Ancelotti’s sec­ond and fi­nal sea­son.

Cap­tain Ser­gio Ramos said there was no need to worry about the re­cent lack of goals.

“Ob­vi­ously the first half didn’t go well and while we had more pos­ses­sion and more of the ini­tia­tive in the sec­ond, our chances didn’t fin­ish in goals and we weren’t able to kill off the game,” the Spain in­ter­na­tional told re­porters.

“This shows that there are teams in the first di­vi­sion that fully de­serve to be here and it is go­ing to be very tough to win at ev­ery sta­dium,” he added. “We have to con­tinue im­prov­ing.”

Mean­while, Lionel Messi missed a penalty kick but Luis Suarez scored in the sec­ond half to give Barcelona a 1-0 vic­tory over Ath­letic Bil­bao in its Span­ish league opener on Sun­day.

That gave the de­fend­ing cham­pion a small gap on archri­val Real Madrid right away, af­ter their ri­vals’ goal­less draw with Sport­ing Gi­jon.

Suarez net­ted the win­ner from close range af­ter a left-flank cross by Jordi Alba in the 54th minute at Bil­bao’s San Mames Sta­dium. Messi had a chance to open the scor­ing in the first half af­ter a dis­puted foul on Suarez in­side the area, but the Ar­gen­tine play­maker had his low shot from the spot saved by goal­keeper Gorka Iraizoz.

“We won the game and that’s what’s im­por­tant,” Suarez said.

A dis­ap­point­ing re­sult in the opener would have raised more ques­tions about Barcelona af­ter an un­usu­ally dif­fi­cult start to the sea­son. The club was stunned by Bil­bao last week in the Span­ish Su­per Cup fi­nal, los­ing the ti­tle 5-1 on ag­gre­gate.

Bil­bao pre­sented the Su­per Cup tro­phy to the nearly 50,000 fans that packed the San Mames on Sun­day, but the team could not keep its mo­men­tum go­ing against the Span­ish pow­er­house.

Barcelona played just well enough to earn the vic­tory, and had most of the sig­nif­i­cant scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Sergi Roberto hit the cross­bar with a right-footed shot in the 60th and Messi made one of his tra­di­tional runs past sev­eral de­fend­ers near the end of the game but his shot came out weak for an easy save by Iraizoz.

Messi’s best chance was the 32nd-minute penalty kick, when his left-footed shot was de­flected wide as Iraizoz dived to his right to tip the ball away.

Bil­bao play­ers loudly com­plained at the penalty call as it ap­peared there was only light con­tact by de­fender Gorka Elus­tondo on Suarez. Re­plays also showed that the Uruguayan striker ap­peared to be off­side at the time of the pass from the back field.

Luis En­rique’s team be­gan its sea­son with a de­pleted squad be­cause of in­juries and sus­pen­sions, and it only got worse on Sun­day when right-back Dani Alves had to be sub­sti­tuted in the first half and Ser­gio Bus­quets in the sec­ond be­cause of ap­par­ent in­juries. Star striker Ney­mar was re­cov­er­ing from the mumps and fel­low Brazil­ian Adri­ano was in­jured, while Ger­ard Pique and Jeremy Mathieu were sus­pended.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion; they are very im­por­tant play­ers for our team,” Suarez said. “But we have a lot of qual­ity play­ers to re­place them if needed.” —

Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale went close to open­ing the scor­ing, but failed to beat Sport­ing Gi­jon keeper Ivan Cuel­lar.

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