Karim Benzema scored to give Real Madrid a 1-0 win at Granada in the Spanish league Monday amid growing speculation the club is close to a blockbuster deal to sign Wales winger Gareth Bale.
Madrid started brightly thanks to the playmaking of Angel di Maria which led to Benzema’s goal in the 10th minute, but left Granada with the chance to snatch the draw late.
Madrid joined defending champion Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal as the only teams to win the first two rounds of the season. Madrid’s offer to English club Tottenham for Bale is reportedly similar to the record 80 million pounds (then $131 million) it paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.
And while it appeared the transfer was close to being done over the weekend, Bale remained a Tottenham player and is expected back with his team after a two-day break to rest a hurt foot he used to visit the southern Spanish resort town of Marbella.
If Bale’s possible arrival wasn’t enough to distract from the action on the pitch at Los Carmenes Stadium, there was also the sight of Spain and Madrid captain Iker Casillas sitting on the bench for a second consecutive match under coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Despite a week of pressure by Spanish media to see Casillas returned to Madrid’s goal, Ancelotti stuck with Lopez in goal and maintained former coach Jose Mourinho’s decision from last season to reduce Casillas to the role of backup.
Ancelotti said his decision was because ”Diego’s playing well right now. There’s nothing else to say.”
Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa called on Madrid’s fans to unite behind the team and let rest the debate over the goalkeeper.
”I support them both, Lopez and Iker, just like my teammates do, and I think it would be interesting if the public did the same,” he said.
Even though Madrid has two wins in as many games, it has struggled to take the first six points of the season after needing a late goal to edge Real Betis in Ancelotti’s debut.
”We are in the second round, with a new coach and new players,” said Arbeloa. ”It’s normal that we are not at our top level. We are trying to do it the best we can, but it takes time.”
Bale might be tagged to be Madrid’s next big threat up front, but in the meantime Di Maria put on an all-around attacking display against the overmatched Granada in the first half hour.
Di Maria had already tested the `keeper and set up Benzema before Granada left the Argentina international with enough time to pick out Ronaldo’s run from the left flank. The Portugal forward’s first touch to control the ball wasn’t good, but Benzema was there to drive the ball home as the defense looked on.
Madrid seemed ready to romp as Mesut Ozil was denied from close by Granada goalie Roberto Fernandez and Di Maria again crossed for Ronaldo, only for Ronaldo to uncharacteristically whiff when trying to slot in the dangerous pass.
Madrid almost doubled its lead in the 62nd through Francisco ”Isco” Alarcon who wrong-footed his marker before forcing Fernandez to push his shot onto the post.
Ronaldo came alive as the rest faded and drew several saves from Fernandez, but he was still left without a goal this season.
Granada surged forward in the final minutes and managed to trap Madrid in its area, but it couldn’t do better than pepper the box with crosses that never turned into shots on goal.