Real Madrid produced a rampant first-half display to beat Levante 3-2 in La Liga on Saturday with goals from Karim Benzema and Casemiro but dropped off after Eden Hazard came on to make his debut and were left clinging on for the three points.
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Benzema headed Real in front after 25 minutes at a rain-swept Santiago Bernabeu when he met a cross from Dani Carvajal and the France forward struck again a few minutes later after latching on to a pass from James Rodriguez.
Brazil midfielder Casemiro stretched Real’s advantage right before halftime with a gut-busting run to meet a cross from compatriot Vinicius, but Levante hit back shortly after the interval through former Madrid forward Borja Mayoral.
Perhaps with Wednesday’s Champions League opener at Paris St Germain in mind, Real manager Zinedine Zidane brought off captain Sergio Ramos and Casemiro on the hour, allowing Hazard to finally make his debut after recovering from injury.
Madrid’s 100 million euro ($110.73 million) signing looked a bit off the pace in his first competitive game though and, as the hosts’ intensity dropped, Levante’s Gonzalo Melero reduced the deficit to one goal and they had chances to equalise.
“The second half was very difficult for us as it’s always tough to concede a goal early after the break but overall the sensations are good,” Zidane told reporters after the win took his side to eight points after four games.
“We were phenomenal in the first half, we scored goals, played exciting football and showed real commitment. We have to try and keep that up for 90 minutes.”
The visitors made it a nervous finale for the home fans with 15 minutes to go thanks to a near-post header from Melero and twice came close to levelling in stoppage time.
Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced to turn away a header from Ruben Vezo, while Levante’s talisman Jose Luis Morales tried to catch the Belgian out moments later by shooting for the near post instead of crossing but narrowly missed.
“We had Madrid begging for the fulltime whistle,” said Levante coach Paco Lopez.
Zidane’s side had drawn their last two games against Real Valladolid and Villarreal and were grateful to scrape a victory.
Courtois criticised his side for switching off after the break following their electric start.
“If we had continued to play in the same way as in the first half we would have won 5-0 or 6-0,” he told reporters.
“We played the best 45 minutes of the season but that’s football, Levante changed their system and at times we were sloppy with our passing.”