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Monday November 12 2012
Morata refloats Madrid title hopes

The Champions’ challenge was sinking at Levante until a Cantera prospect delivered the goods, writes Kieran Canning

Sunday night’s final fixture of the La Liga weekend was wet and wild. Very wet. Most importantly for Jose Mourinho though, it ended in a Real Madrid victory.

Mourinho had never won away to Levante in three trips as Real Madrid boss and no one had in eight tries so far this season, indeed Los Granotes had won all of their last seven games at the Ciutat de Valencia.

To level the gulf between the teams even more, the game kicked off on a surface that would have been idyllic for a slide at a children’s waterpark but was less conducive to world class footballers producing high quality football.

In fact, it was all hilariously good fun to watch, until that is, Cristiano Ronaldo was knocked so far into next week by David Navarro's elbow he probably already knows the result of the Ballon d’Or he so preciously covets.

Still, looking like a slightly greasy pirate with one eyed bandaged and closed over, the Portuguese showed incredible skill to take revenge on Navarro moments later, controlling the defender's wayward defensive header on his thigh before rocketing a shot high into the net for the opener.

When he inevitably had to be replaced at half-time due to problems with his vision though, Mourinho seemed to want to play it safe and indeed play the conditions, bringing on Raul Albiol to add another body to the midfield rather than blooding young Alvaro Morata.

However, all didn’t go to plan for the Special One. Pepe hit the bar, Sergio Ramos somehow had an effort also deflected onto the woodwork from a yard out and Angel di Maria showed that he has never played golf at St. Andrews by trying to chip a ball out of long wet grass as he bore down on Gustavo Munua.

With those chances gone Levante took heart and equalised. Substitute Angel kept the weird nature of the evening going by outmuscling Pepe before dinking the ball over Iker Casillas.

Real’s nightmare continued as Xabi Alonso was then entrusted with penalty duties in Ronaldo’s absence after Jose Callejon had been caught by Navarro, and missed 15 minutes from time. And so with eight minutes remaining Mesut Ozil – who looked in need of a warm bath and a hug from his mum all evening – was sacrificed for Morata.

Two minutes later, Alonso crossed and there was the 20-year-old, perfectly placed to head home and just about keep Real’s title hopes alive when they had appeared all but sunk.

Afterwards Mourinho, continuing his row with the press over Cantera prospects, was unrelenting.

“Who brought him into the first team, took him on three pre-season tours, made sure he did not leave and gave him a first-team contract? It was me.”

The players also had plenty to say after a 90 minutes described by their Coach as: “not a game of football, but an honest war.”

“If [Levante captain Sergio] Ballesteros likes Boxing that much he should change sport,” suggested Ramos, but Levante had their own complaints, claiming the League had ensured Real’s greater need for points had been taken care of.

“La Liga was over if they did not win, so that could not happen,” said Juanlu. “The referee was a disgrace.”

All in all it was just another quiet Sunday evening that went to prove that the rain in Spain really does fall mainly on the insane.

Elsewhere, comfortable wins for Atletico Madrid and Barcelona over Getafe and Mallorca respectively kept them clear of the pack at the top. Adrian and Arda Turan got the goals for Atleti in front of 4,000 Colombians at the Calderon. They had come to see Radamel Falcao score, so inevitably, he didn’t.

Meanwhile in the Balearics Lionel Messi surpassed Pele’s record tally of goals in a calendar year as the Argentine moved onto 76 in 2012. Barca’s defence continues to flounder though, conceding two goals for the eighth time this season.

On Saturday there was an unwanted Galician double as both Celta Vigo and Deportivo la Coruna threw away two-goal leads after being reduced to 10 men. Celta were downed 3-2 at Rayo, who move up into seventh, whilst Depor lost the game of the weekend 5-3 to Real Zaragoza - for whom the once derided Helder Postiga now has a very healthy six goals in 11 games.

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