Luka Modric scored his first header in over a decade as Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw at Elche on Wednesday to end 2020 second in La Liga, two points behind rivals Atletico.
Fidel equalised from the penalty spot for Elche after Dani Carvajal fouled Antonio Barragan, and the hosts could have taken the lead when Lucas Boye grazed the outside of the post. Edgar Badia saved from both Carvajal and Sergio Ramos as Madrid looked for a winner before Thibaut Courtois did well to keep out Gonzalo Verdu’s free kick in added time.
At 1-0 up early in the first half, this looked like being another good night for Madrid. They were cruising and appeared ready to go on and win this match comfortably. That feeling didn’t last after half time, though, and there wasn’t enough of a reaction to Elche’s equaliser.
Marcelo’s presence in the Real Madrid starting XI has tended to mean one thing this season: imminent defeat. Before tonight, Madrid had one win in his previous six starts, and Ferland Mendy has made the left-back position his own. Here, though, there were signs that the veteran Brazilian may not be an entirely lost cause. An active first half saw him get forward frequently, hit the bar, and generally play like he had a point to prove, even if familiar defensive failings were also present.
There was a tiredness to Madrid’s second-half performance here, as the team’s reliance on key, experienced players such as Ramos, Modric and Karim Benzema started to look like a handicap. The defence didn’t look solid enough, the midfield started to run out of legs, and the attack didn’t look inventive enough. Others will need to step up and contribute soon.
Elche are a decent team with a gameplan and hardworking, technically proficient players, but Madrid should have had enough to win this match. That they didn’t, and end the year behind Atletico Madrid in the table, is a concern.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Zinedine Zidane made three changes to the team that beat Granada on Dec. 23. The most notable — and bold — was Marcelo’s first La Liga start since November. Modric came back into the midfield, and Marco Asensio replaced Rodrygo in attack. The first half display was mostly encouraging, but there was a worrying dip after half time. Zidane’s substitutions didn’t help change things, with neither Eden Hazard nor Vinicius Junior making any impact.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — One first-half save, and was beaten by an unsaveable penalty from Fidel. A brilliant stop to prevent Elche scoring an added-time winner.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 — Gave away the penalty with a careless foul on Barragan right in front of the referee. Had a good chance to score after that, saved by Badia.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 — Embarrassed by Boye with one clever piece of skill early on. Often left alone at the back as Madrid pushed forward.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 — Seemed to spend as much time attacking as defending as Madrid looked for the three points. Crossed for Benzema in the first half, and was denied himself by Badia from close range in the second.
DF Marcelo, 7 — Unlucky not to score when he hit the bar inside the first 15 minutes. Then found Benzema inside the box with a backheel. A tougher night defensively dealing with winger Rigoni.
MF Casemiro, 7 — One threaded, nutmeg pass to find Asensio before half time. Unlucky to be booked for a foul on Josema Sanchez when he played the ball first.
MF Toni Kroos, 6 — Put an early header wide when he unexpectedly appeared at the far post. Took a second-half yellow card to prevent an Elche counter-attack, and was taken off not long afterwards.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Back from a minor injury to score his first headed goal for the club. Showed quick reactions to get to the ball first when Asensio’s shot came back off the bar. The best performer on the night.
FW Marco Asensio, 6 — Rewarded with a start after his best performance of the season against Granada. Created the opener with a vicious, swerving shot which Badia did well to push onto the woodwork. Faded badly in the second half.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 — Had a second-half shot saved from a difficult angle. Madrid’s most consistent attacking player here, without doing much.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 — A quieter night, after scoring four goals in his previous three league games. Struggled to find space. Half chances came when he went close to connecting to two crosses with his head.
FW Eden Hazard, NR — Anonymous in his first minutes since November.
MF Fede Valverde, NR — Replaced Kroos as Madrid looked for a winning goal.
FW Vinicius Junior, NR — Played the last few minutes on the right.