Stony-faced Bale refuses to celebrate
Welsh forward brushes off congratulating teammates, but Real manager Solari says players can celebrate any way they want
Gareth Bale came off the bench to score a controversial winning penalty against Levante yesterday morning (Singapore time), but his refusal to celebrate suggested all may not be well again at Real Madrid.
Bale's spot-kick earned Real a battling and, in truth, undeserved 2-1 victory at the City of Valencia Stadium where referee Ignacio Iglesias failed to reverse his decision, despite VAR exposing a theatrical dive from Casemiro.
The absence of any delight from a stony-faced Bale was telling, as he turned and brushed off teammates' attempts to congratulate him.
"The players can celebrate goals how they want, as long as we win," coach Santiago Solari said.
This was Bale's sixth game on the bench in the eight matches since he returned from injury. It remains to be seen if his cameo will be enough to win a start against Barcelona on Thursday in the Copa del Rey semi-final.
"He looked thrilled in the dressing room because he scored," added Solari, who had Nacho sent off late in the game.
"I loved how he came into the game, the anger he played with helped, and he gave us the victory, he gave us hard work.
"When we had 10 men, he performed a double job up front. For me, he had a fantastic match."
Bale replaced Karim Benzema in the 74th minute, after the Frenchman had scored his own penalty in the first half before Roger Marti pulled Levante level.
Levante had already twice hit the post by then and Real will be relieved to have escaped with the points that keep them nine behind Barca, and two adrift of Atletico, who had earlier beaten Villarreal 2-0.
Alvaro Morata scored his first Atleti goal at the Wanda Metropolitano, toasting his smart finish by poking fun at the VAR, which had twice intervened to prevent him opening his account at his new club.
Real have been among the most vocal critics of the video technology in La Liga this season but Levante were the ones hard done by this time.
Cheick Doucoure's swinging right foot was wild but there was no contact to merit the leap from Casemiro. Iglesias reviewed but retained his decision.
Barcelona, whom Real now face in two Clasicos in four days, the second in the league and also at the Santiago Bernabeu, will now benefit from an extra day's rest and also a suspension for Nacho, who was sent off late on for a second yellow card.
Levante dominated for the majority of the first half but missed three golden chances.
Marti was most guilty, poking onto the post from three metres out, and then nipping in behind but again hitting the woodwork, when Thibaut Courtois had left the corner open.
In between, Real took the lead with a penalty that took everyone by surprise.
It went back to a Luka Modric cross blocked by the raised arm of Enis Bardhi.
It was the correct call and Benzema made no mistake.
Levante had been the better side and found an equaliser just before the hour, Luis Morales squaring for Marti, who beat Nacho to the ball and angled a finish into the far corner.
The game was now in the balance.
The lively Vinicius Junior sped in behind but was denied by the hand of Aitor Fernandez.
Bale came on for Benzema and was soon called into action as Doucoure swung and missed, prompting Casemiro to tumble. Bale slid the spot-kick into the corner.
Nacho was sent off and so was Levante's Ruben Rochina on the bench, punished for protesting. Levante deserved more but Real held on. - REUTERS