BARCELONA: The worst version of Real Madrid was back when it slumped at Levante to 2-2 on Saturday, only 11 days from its critical Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.
Madrid appeared to have taken control through Francisco “Isco” Alarcon’s goal in the 81st minute, but Giampaolo Pazzini equalized on his debut for Levante with two minutes remaining to split the points.
The result left Madrid in fourth place and 18 points behind leader Barcelona, and erased all signs of the improvement Zinedine Zidane’s team showed in consecutive wins in La Liga.
Out of reach of the Liga title and eliminated from the Copa del Rey, Madrid’s season rides on defending its European title.
And that means subduing the firepower of the Neymar-led PSG on February 14 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
“We know the league is almost impossible, but we need to finish well in the league because it builds our confidence,” Madrid midfielder Casemiro said. “We know how important the games against Paris are.”
Madrid went ahead in the 11th through Sergio Ramos’ header, but Levante striker Emmanuel Boateng scored from the edge of the area to make it 1-1 three minutes before halftime.
Levante, which also drew at Madrid 1-1 in September, was three points above the relegation zone.
A minute after Isco scored Zidane sent on Marco Asensio to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zidane said he planned to rest his star forward in the final minutes, and did so with the win seemingly in hand.
“We are not pleased with the result,” Zidane said. “After the second goal all we had to do was keep possession and we weren’t sharp defensively. This year has been complicated for us because we can’t string together good results.”
Madrid only has next week’s match against Real Sociedad to find its stride before PSG.
EIBAR ON THE RISE
Sevilla coach Vicenzo Montella is back under pressure after his team was crushed at Eibar 5-1.
Sevilla debuted Sandro Ramirez, Miguel Layun and Roque Mesa following their arrivals in the final days of the January transfer market.
Fabian Orellana led Eibar with two goals.
Montella has managed to win once only in five rounds since his arrival.
Sevilla faces an important match on Wednesday when it hosts Leganes in the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals after 1-1 in the first match.
“I want to ask our fans to forgive us (for the loss), but I am sure that if we stay united we can reach the final (of the cup),” Montella said.
Eibar, whose budget of around 50 million euros is a third of Sevilla’s, climbed to seventh place and to just one point behind Sevilla in sixth after losing only once in its last 11 league matches.
Loren Moron enjoyed a dream debut for Betis when the reserve team forward struck twice to help down a Villarreal side 2-1 that played with 10 men for an hour.
Daniele Bonera received a direct red card in the 31st for a dangerous tackle of Ruben Castro.
Moron struck from outside the area in first-half stoppage time and added a second goal in the 65th.
Carlos Bacca pulled one back for Villarreal by converting a penalty after Denis Cheryshev was fouled by Antonio Barragan.
Villarreal was left in fifth place, while Betis moved into ninth.
Betis defender Zouhair Feddal ruptured a leg tendon and will be out for six months.
AWAY FROM DANGER
Alaves dealt Celta Vigo its first loss in six rounds after it scored twice early to win 2-1 at home.
Alaves’ fourth win in its last five home matches allowed it to open up a five-point gap above the teams in the relegation zone.
Celta was only able to respond late when Iago Aspas netted his 15th goal, trailing only Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (20) and Luis Suarez (16).