Gareth Bale brace bails out bumbling 4/10 Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Celta
Real Madrid were fortunate to escape Balaidos with a point after a 2-2 draw that was hardly the stuff of greatness. The excellent Daniel Wass opened the scoring with an audacious chip before Gareth Bale struck twice in two minutes to give Real a half-time lead. Maxi Gomez leveled for the hosts and Iago Aspas had victory at his mercy from the spot but saw his effort saved, not entirely legally, by Keylor Navas.
It should have been worse. Aspas was denied a second penalty three minutes from time after a clumsy Marcelo challenge and, under a strict interpretation of the rules, should have been allowed to retake his first since Navas was halfway to his six-yard line when the ball was struck. Bale provided the only positive note of the evening but it was not enough to keep Real's title defence from receiving a knockout blow.
Madrid now face a battle to break into the top three after wins for Atletico and Valencia on Saturday. On current form, the game in hand at Leganes is no guarantee of closing the gap and only Betis' brilliance in the Sanchez Pizjuan prevented Sevilla from drawing level on points. This is now, officially, a crisis.
Manager rating out of 10
3 -- Real's suicidal high line led to the opening goal while Maxi was completely unmarked as he nodded home the second. As ever, Zinedine Zidane waited an eternity to look to his bench despite Celta's greater Copa baggage: Only Nacho and Bale were involved against Numancia yet the visitors failed to make their fresh legs count. Handing Marco Asensio seven minutes to pull something out of the hat was farcical.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 6 -- Caught in no-man's land for Wass' goal despite Nacho closing down on the Dane. Avoided a red card for a blatant penalty on Aspas as Raphael Varane was covering but made a superb stop, however questionable his position, to rescue his side.
DF Achraf Hakimi, 7 -- Made some good runs down the right, gave Pablo Hernandez a torrid evening and kept Pione Sisto, La Liga's top assist-maker, under wraps at the other end to the extent the winger ended up seeking the ball in midfield.
DF Raphael Varane, 5 -- Struggled to keep the physical Maxi Gomez at bay in the air and gifted Celta an opening when misjudging a header in his own half. Watched passively as Aspas struck the post early on in a performance to forget.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Barely put a foot wrong in another display that poses the question: Why doesn't Zidane rely on him more often? Real's most solid defensive performer yet again, Nacho prevented further points being surrendered in Balaidos.
DF Marcelo, 3 -- Failed for the most part to find a teammate all evening, over-hitting just about every forward pass. Tried a futsal trick in midfield that led to Celta's second goal and was fortunate not to concede a penalty on Aspas at 2-2 with three minutes to play.
MF Casemiro, 6 -- Stung Ruben's palms with a cracking first-half shot, Real's best effort until that point, then picked up his customary yellow for an elbow on Hugo Mallo. However, his screening prevented more Celta interplay around the area and he was the pick of the midfield.
MF Toni Kroos, 5 -- Other than a fine through ball for Bale's opener it was easy to forget Kroos was on the pitch. His passing was precise as ever but rarely went forward and he didn't get stuck in on the back foot.
MF Luka Modric, 5 -- Started brightly but as frustration took hold lost possession several times, committed a few uncharacteristic fouls and generally didn't look up to the task at hand after the half-hour mark. His number came up in the 75th.
MF Isco, 6 -- A quiet first half was punctuated with a couple of wild efforts from his preferred position cutting in on the left but Isco popped up with a glorious assist for Bale's second before struggling to pick a way through Celta's back line again after the break.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 -- A tame effort straight at Ruben to cap a lightning attack, a header that at least made the Celta keeper move and a shot blazed into the side netting with Bale free to his right was the sum of Ronaldo's contribution. Karim Benzema is in the dog house at the moment but he provides an invaluable conduit for his strike partners as Ronaldo and Bale barely exchanged two passes.
FW Gareth Bale, 8 -- Muscled off the ball too easily early on, Bale turned match-saver by capitalising on a mistake by Gustavo Cabral with a trademark left-footer on the run. He reacted quickest to Isco's ball to prod home the second. Zidane will be praying he remains fit after his recent game-turning exploits.
FW Lucas Vazquez, NR -- On for Modric with 15 to play, stood and watched as Maxi scored and hit a glorious chance straight at Ruben in the 90th minute.
MF Mateo Kovacic, NR -- On for Isco in a double change, barely got a touch.
MF Marco Asensio, NR -- On for Bale, had insufficient time to make an impact.