Real Madrid's ghastly defending lets it down in another disappointing draw

Luka Modric during Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw at Levante. (Getty)

Whenever somebody asks the question, “What is wrong with Real Madrid,” there’s a tendency to search for a single answer. For a sole cause. For a leading reason that the reigning La Liga champions will soon fall more than 20 points behind Barcelona.

When in reality, the answer should be something to the effect of “everything.” Or “a lot of things.”

Real Madrid keeps shooting itself in the foot. It did so again on Saturday, blowing two leads, the second in the 89th minute, in a 2-2 draw at 17th-place Levante.

There are some common threads through all the losses and distressing draws. But this is not a case of a single problem either appearing or disappearing. Improvement isn’t a matter of curing a single ailment. There are several ailments; one or more of them could inflict pain on any given weekend.

Finishing is one, but it wasn’t the relevant one on Saturday. Rather, defending was. So was tactical naiveté, not accompanied by requisite intensity or enthusiasm.

Madrid twice went ahead. And twice, after going ahead, it left itself susceptible to counterattacks. It wasn’t just the goals. Levante players streamed forward with numerical advantages. Madrid’s fullbacks were caught too high up the field, its midfielders either not in position to cover or lacking the determination to do so.

Zinedine Zidane’s team seemed stuck between two mindsets. Some players were intent on pinning Levante back. But others were unwilling to put on the required pressure. When Madrid lost the ball, its press was nowhere near thorough enough. Its spottiness gave Levante vast stretches unoccupied land to break into.

Los Blancos were fortunate to be in front in the first half. Sergio Ramos’ 11th-minute header snuck into the net via a goalkeeping error.

Madrid left defensive doors unlocked, though, and slacked off in transition. Its midfield gifted Sasa Lukic far too much time to split a high defensive line. Sergio Ramos, too busy raising his arm for a non-existent offside flag to play the ball, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either.

Emmanuel Boateng placed the rebound past a helpless Keylor Navas, and Levante, which had taken four points from its last nine La Liga games, was level.

For much of the second half, it appeared the home side would stay level at 1-1. On 81 minutes, Isco ruined the fun.

But still, Madrid was woefully open. Marco Asensio had to take a yellow card as Levante broke 3-on-1 off a misplayed short corner. Isco’s would-be winner should have put the game to bed. Madrid was determined to make things interesting.

And finally, it was deservedly exposed.

Sergio Ramos stepped to the ball four yards from goal, but didn’t get anywhere near close enough to it. Dani Carvajal was lazy getting back into position. They left Raphael Varane with two men to track, and in need of Keylor Navas heroics. The Costa Rican keeper couldn’t come up with them.

Credit is due to the hosts, who still had to play their way out of Madrid’s lax press, and still had to fashion chances in the final third. This isn’t all about the sputtering Merengues. But anytime they drop points to inferior opposition, a significant portion of the result is about them. They continue to leave themselves vulnerable. And they only have themselves to blame when others take advantage.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.