Real Madrid scored two goals in the final minutes to rescue a victory from the jaws of defeat against Levante in Valencia on Saturday evening.
Already five points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, Real manager Carlo Ancelotti knew his side could not afford to drop any more points so early in the season. But, after Nabil El Zhar somehow beat Diego Lopez with just four minutes remaining, it looked like the Italian would be handed another damaging defeat.
But substitute Alvaro Morata produced a smart finish in the last minute of normal time to restore parity at 2-2, setting the stage for Cristiano Ronaldo—with the aid of a deflection and the far post—to produce the winner in the fourth and final minute of injury time.
Papering over the cracks it may have been, but the turnaround victory was greeted joyously by all Real’s players—showing more unity and cohesion than they had managed for 90 minutes on the pitch.
Levante’s Babacar Diawara opened the scoring in the second half, showing a nice composure in front of goal to turn home Jordi Xumetra’s chipped through ball with a sweet first-time half-volley. But Real responded immediately, with Sergio Ramos powering home from a corner minutes later—a feat he would have repeated soon after had Karim Benzema not been in the way.
Ancelotti’s starting attacking lineup of Benzema, Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria and Isco looked disjointed in attack in the first half as Levante looked threatening time and again while trying to break with speed.
It was not until the second half that either side would score, however, as Diawara finally turned one of his side’s encouraging counters into a goal.
Seemingly stirred into life by that setback, Real attacked with more purpose and were on terms almost immediately—Ronaldo winning a corner that Ramos, the captain, would convert.
The home side continued to press but a second goal would not be forthcoming, with Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas making a couple of smart saves.
Ancelotti duly changed things around—introducing Marcelo, Jese and Morata for Coentrao, Benzema and Isco, respectively—but it was a substitute for the other team that grabbed the next goal.
Nabil El Zhar was introduced with 20 minutes remaining for the tiring Xumetra, and the former Liverpool man saw himself blessed with a glorious opening when Diego Lopez failed to claim a cross he was challenging for.
That left him with the ball and only Sergio Ramos between him and goal, but the glorious opening appeared to have been lost as Ramos successfully held him up. El Zhar wriggled free to the penalty spot, however, and then produced a remarkable turn-and-shoot that beat the retreating Lopez at his near post.
That raised the roof at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia, but that was to be an even more dramatic sting in the tail. First came Morata’s intervention—the highly touted young striker showing why he is rated so highly with a smart control-and-shot inside a crowded penalty area that made the score 2-2.
That left Real Madrid with the entirety of injury time—four minutes—to get a winner. And in the very last of those Ronaldo popped up, taking the ball out on the right-hand side of the penalty area and firing a speculative shot that deflected off a defender’s outstretched leg and the far post before nestling in the opposite corner.
Victory was secured—but for Ancelotti, the problem of how to get such a talented group of individuals to play as a cohesive team undoubtedly remains.
Real Madrid move back up to third with the win, two points behind Barca and Atletico (although both play their game in hand later in the week). Levante remain in mid-table, as both sides head into the international break.