Real Madrid were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at struggling Elche on Wednesday, losing ground in the La Liga title race to leaders Atletico Madrid.
A header from Luka Modric gave the champions the lead in the 20th minute but Elche found a way back into the game when Fidel Chaves levelled from the penalty spot early in the second half.
Both sides had chances to take all three points, with Elche forward Lucas Boye striking the post, while Real defenders Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos were thwarted by fine saves from the home side’s ‘keeper Edgar Badia.
Elche had a last-gasp chance to win the game when they earned a free-kick in added time, but defender Gonzalo Verdu’s shot was tipped away by Real ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois.
The draw halted a six-match winning streak in all competitions for Real and left them second in the standings on 33 points, two behind city rivals Atletico who also have two games in hand. Elche are 15th on 16 points.
“We started well but our opponents had studied us well, they put everyone behind the ball and tried to hit us on the break and it’s not a huge surprise we couldn’t win,” said Real midfielder Casemiro.
Real had pulled themselves back into the title race with a run of five league wins in a row before the Christmas break and looked likely to notch another after an excellent first half.
Toni Kroos missed the target with a free header and Marcelo clanged the crossbar shortly before Modric put his side in front, following up a thumping strike from Marco Asensio which also hit the bar.
Zidane’s side had a penalty incorrectly awarded for a block by an Elche player which the referee thought had struck his arm, but the official corrected the decision after reviewing it on the pitchside monitor.
Elche only troubled Courtois once in the first half but earned a golden chance to level when Carvajal was penalised for grappling with Antonio Barragan.
Courtois guessed the right way but Fidel’s penalty had too much power.
They had their impressive Badia to thank for keeping it that way, the ‘keeper denying Ramos from point-blank range, moments after flying across his goal to push away a shot from Carvajal.
Real’s record signing Eden Hazard returned after over a month out injured but could not help his side get the winner they craved.
Meanwhile, Luis Surez led Atletico Madrid to a 1-0 victory over Getafe in the 500th game for coach Diego Simeone, extending their lead at the summit.
The Uruguay striker’s powerful header from Yannick Carrasco’s free-kick after 20 minutes was enough to ensure victory. It was Suarez’s eighth goal in the league this season since leaving Barcelona.
Serie B: Balotelli scores four minutes into Monza debut
Mario Balotelli scored four minutes into his debut for Serie B side Monza on Wednesday, setting them on the way to a 3-0 win over leaders Salernitana in his first senior match since March.
The 30-year-old former Italy international, starting out at the ninth club of his turbulent career, was left unmarked at the far post to side-foot the ball in from close range following a low cross.
The win left promotion-chasing Monza, who have never played in Serie A, two points behind their opponents.
Balotelli joined Monza this month and was warned by Adriano Galliani, the club’s chief executive, that it was “absolutely the last chance” to resurrect his career.