‘Bale scores, Lopez rescues,’ read Madrid-based sports daily AS on Sunday morning. And, it could not have been said better. Real Madrid’s new world-record signing Gareth Bale did indeed score, but, his goal would have been worth much less were it not for Diego Lopez, who really did come to the rescue.
Such was the fuss surrounding Bale’s debut, it hardly got a mention that Lopez was returning to the club he joined six years ago after failing to make the grade during a first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu – mainly due to not being able to dethrone Iker Casillas. And then there he was between the goalposts yet again at El Madrigal but this time wearing the colours of Real Madrid while Iker Casillas was again on the bench. What a proud moment it must have been for him. “Emotionally this match was very special for me,” he said after the final whistle.
It was also a great match for Lopez in terms of performance, as he showed just why Casillas still sits on the bench. Had it not been for him, according to Villarreal Coach Marcelino Garcia Toral: “We would have been up by three goals after half an hour of play.” It would be hard for anyone who saw the match to disagree. The hosts were far and away the best side in the opening 30 minutes as they played with absolutely no fear and lots of flare.
But, for all their bravery and dominance, Villarreal had but one goal to show for it thanks to Lopez’s heroics. He denied his former side with a great save after 13 minutes, an incredible double-save 25 minutes later and 10 minutes from time he was at it again as he denied Tomas Pina. In the end, he made a total of seven saves. Save the day he did.
“I intend to work hard to stay at this level all season,” Lopez later said. If he can, he will certainly carry on being Real Madrid’s number one. As for his teammates, especially those that make up the four that sit in front of him, they might want to work a bit harder. As a defensive unit, they were in sixes and sevens and not for the first time this season. Nacho Fernandez and Daniel Carvajal, in particular, were poor.
Yet, when a team boasts the star quality of Los Blancos, it is always possible they will find a way. And through their new star, Bale, and their renewed star Cristiano Ronaldo they did – twice. But justice did prevail somehow as honours were shared at full-time.
This was not the case at Camp Nou. Yes Sevilla were dominated by Barcelona, but, their courage and ability to come back and equalise on 90 minutes deserved a point. Instead, they left empty-handed after Alexis Sanchez poked home the winner. Controversially, the Chilean’s winner seemed to come after the three minutes of injury time had been played but there is not much Sevilla can do about it, while Barca simply won’t care as it keeps their 100 per cent record intact.
Atletico Madrid also kept their 100 per cent record intact, though in much more convincing manner against Almeria. Diego Costa said midweek that the ‘star’ at the Vicente Calderon is the team and it certainly seemed true on Saturday night. Four goals, four different scorers and an assist each for Gabi and Raul Garcia. Atletico have not started a La Liga season better since 1995-96, when they became champions.