When Duje Cop stepped up to the penalty spot in the Bernabéu he touched his heart with one finger and his neck with another, checking his pulse, maybe to calm himself down. He remained like that for a few seconds, until he decided to start his run up. He shot, and missed. The Sporting Gijón striker’s penalty miss spared Real Madrid from a debacle that they would have deserved. The game was balanced at 2-1, there was a quarter of an hour to play and the league leaders were playing poorly and showing signs of exhaustion. Sporting would have thoroughly deserved a point that would have improved their league position a little and given the side renewed belief. It wasn’t to be but the visitors can take away their game from the Bernabéu, because it was a joy to watch. I don’t know to what point that will be of consolation to them.
For Madrid, Cop’s miss was a gift. Zinedine Zidane’s sides on Sunday morning were seven points clear of Barcelona, who still face their annual uncomfortable trip to Anoeta. But the game did not warrant it. Real played as through their minds were elsewhere and they switched off completely when they went 2-0 up early. The first goal came courtesy of a blunder by Sporting’s Sergio Alvárez, who needlessly brought down Lucas Vázquez in the area after Carlo Carmona has almost made it 1-0 at the other end. Later, Cristiano Ronaldo rounded off an attack in which Sporting were a little too compliant at the back, allowing Nacho to put in a cross that the Portuguese buried. With those two goals in the bag, Zidane’s side decided their day’s work was done.
But it wasn’t. Sporting decided to make life uncomfortable for Madrid under the torrential rain and Real did not know how to react, other than Mateo Kovacic, who ran himself into the turf, and Ronaldo, who was in agony by the final whistle, and showing signs perhaps of a muscle problem. The rest of the side lent little in the way of help. James let the game pass him by, Karim Benzema had one of his off days, Luka Modric, uncharacteristically, misplaced a few passes and in general lacked his usual leadership. The side as a whole were blunt and failed to present any genuine goal threat, except through the always dangerous presence of Ronaldo. It was a pitfall of a game, and Madrid only just avoided falling into it. League titles are also won in games like Saturday’s.