Sporting Gijon 0-0 Real Madrid: Lackluster draw kicks off Rafa Benitez era
Real Madrid’s journey under new manager Rafa Benitez commenced in a disappointing manner as the capital club drew against Sporting Gijon in their La Liga opening fixture on Sunday night.
In a game that was supposed to be a one-sided affair, the newly promoted Spanish minnows took the game to the visitors and it was evenly contested for almost the entirety of the match.
From the back of an eventful preseason, Benitez fielded the strongest eleven at his disposal, with the exception of Karim Benzema who did not feature in the squad due to injury and James Rodriguez started from the bench while new recruit Danilo was given a nod ahead of Dani Carvajal.
Los Blancos got off to a good start as last season’s top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo volleyed a cross for Benzema’s replacement Jese at the far post, but Gijon keeper Ivan Cuellar managed to grab it ahead of him.
With both sides enjoying spells at either ends, Gareth Bale had the first realistic chance to put his side ahead in the 13th minute after he went past the keeper but he failed to find the target as he side netted his shot.
With minutes passing by, Madrid grew frustrated because of their inability to break down Gijon’s backline and the trio of Jese, Ronaldo and Bale seemed to lack chemistry. In the 35th minute, Gijon came very close in their efforts to shock the visitors through Antonio Sanabria whose header rattled the underside of the bar and rebounded off the goal line. In what was a 50-50 decision, the referee ruled it as no goal.
Real Madrid could have had a penalty in the final quarter of the first half after defender Sergio Alvarez brought down Ronaldo who was on the verge of meeting a delivery aimed towards him. But the referee ruled the decision in favour of the home side. It stood 0-0 at half-time as both sides headed into their dressing rooms.
Second half kicked off and after three minutes into the game, the visitors came close again through Carmona but his effort went just over the post. James was brought in in place of Jese in the 56th minute as Rafa instilled fresh feet to break down an adamant Gijon side.
Bale had yet another chance to provide the breakthrough, but the Welshman’s header was directed straight into the hands of Cuellar. Ronaldo uncharacteristically had an off night in his first league game as the Portuguese squandered an easy header and mishit an open tap in from a pass provided by James but it wouldn’t have counted since he was offside.
The last 10 minutes was all Real Madrid as they pushed further for the winner. But Cuellar pulled off some good saves and denied Ronaldo and co on several occasions. The last chance came from a freekick, but Ronaldo failed to get it past the wall as the runners-up of last season surrendered points in their opening fixture to go behind Barcelona in the league table.