Isco's performance off the bench shows up the likes of Ronaldo, Marcelo
Levante were good value for a 2-2 draw in the Ciutat de Valencia on Saturday and could have inflicted worse damage on a desperately out-of-sorts Real Madrid, who now face a genuine battle for fourth place in La Liga.
The visitors took an early lead through Sergio Ramos before Emmanuel Boateng swept home an equaliser. Substitute Isco put Real ahead with 10 minutes to play, but Giampaolo Pazzini, with practically his first touch for his new side, sealed a deserved point for the hosts.
Real looked sharp in the first half with some nice combinations and moved the ball around swiftly. The visitors dominated possession and managed 23 attempts on goal, with nine on target, and could have put the game to bed if not for Oier Olazabal between the Levante sticks.
Five white shirts surrounded Jason Remeseiro when he threaded the ball to Pazzini between Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane -- that's seven Real players undone by two Levante substitutes. The home side were more up for this than Zinedine Zidane's men, who wasted opportunities and committed basic defensive errors. Levante had three clear chances: Two ended up in the back of the net, as Real surrendered the lead twice.
Manager rating out of 10
3 -- Zidane was able to play his preferred side for the first time in the league this season, with the obvious idea being to get them firing for the looming Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain. The Ligue 1 club, however, will not be intimidated by Saturday's result. A suicidal high line, yet again, smacked of arrogance and invited Levante to break. A team with more economic clout would have punished Real more severely. Zidane brought on Isco earlier than has been his habit, realising that Madrid needed a creative spark, but subbing on another playmaker to create more chances is hardly revolutionary.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- Made an excellent save from Jose Morales but couldn't stop Boateng's follow-up. Got a hand to Pazzini's strike, but his defence hardly helped him out on either goal.
DF Dani Carvajal, 5 -- A lack of activity on the Levante left allowed him to get forward to good effect, even if that rendered Gareth Bale's presence on the right touchline irrelevant. Often AWOL at the back seeking glory at the other end.
DF Raphael Varane, 4 -- Threw himself at Boateng's shot but might have better served the cause by monitoring the onrushing forward rather than ball-chasing. Out of position and on his backside for both Levante goals.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- Opened the scoring but was fortunate Oier was distracted by Karim Benzema. Inevitably went in the book for an elbow on Cheick Doukoure. Caught out by Jose Luis Morales appealing for offside instead of making a challenge for Levante's first goal, he nearly made amends in drawing a fine second-half save from Oier.
DF Marcelo, 4 -- A typical Marcelo performance: Briefly incisive going forward but dreadful in defence. Skinned by Morales, he skied a clearance into his own area and air-kicked another on a Levante break. Had a few shots, most of which ended up in the stands.
MF Casemiro, 5 -- An atypical Casemiro performance: More tackles than any player on either side but nowhere to be seen for both Levante goals and grateful to his midfield partners for mopping up in his absence on several occasions.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- The pick of a mediocre midfield bunch. A few glorious touches around the area to compensate for the lack of Isco and the only player who reacted to a Levante break in 55th minute, doing enough to prevent the hosts opening up a 2-1 lead. Fought for every ball.
MF Toni Kroos, 5 -- His lack of pace is an issue when Real counter, as displayed in the first half, and he failed to have any positive influence from the centre of midfield.
FW Gareth Bale, 5 -- One of Real's better defenders, which is not why he is there, but used to be a stick to beat the Welshman with. Isolated on the right and offering little in attack, he was first off.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 -- The best of the BBC, profiting from his drops to the left and linking well with Marcelo. Had a hand in both goals and put in a shift at the back. Could have buried the game with 15 minutes to go with a powerful individual run in a decent all-round performance.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 -- Caught Levante out with a rehearsed free kick that was at least a change from hitting the wall, but all-too-often hustled off the ball in another disappointing display that reaped two unthreatening shots on target. As long as he continues his phenomenal record in Europe, few will care about his league form this season.
MF Isco, 8 -- On for Bale in a switch to 4-4-2, sparked an instant improvement and bagged the second. He should be starting every week in this side. Anywhere else, he would be.
FW Marco Asensio, NR -- On for Ronaldo for the final straight, earned a yellow for hauling back Jason Remeseiro on the break.
FW Lucas Vazquez, NR -- On for Kroos too late to make a difference.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.