A labouring Real Madrid stumbled to a 1-1 draw against Girona as they dropped points for only the second time in La Liga this season.
The defending champions barely troubled opposition goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga, although they will rightly feel they were robbed of two points by a controversial penalty awarded for handball against Marco Asensio late on.
The visitors arrived at the Bernabeu with a clear game plan of putting ten men behind the ball and sitting deep. That made it difficult for Real to break them down, and they were largely limited to shots from distance as Rodrygo saw one first-half shot from 25 yards superbly tipped around the post.
Girona looked to hit their hosts on the counter-attack, and they perhaps should have done better when Valery Fernandez flashed a header wide, before Rodrygo rattled the post with a fierce strike.
Real had another let off before the break when the visitors then also hit the woodwork, Yangel Herrera running onto Valery Fernandez’s pass before clattering the bar from just inside the box.
In truth, the hosts were passive and sluggish going forward, lacking any kind of incision as they moved the ball too slowly in front of a comfortable Girona defence.
They eventually took the lead on 70 minutes though after some patient build-up play involving Fede Valverde, Rodrygo and Vinicius, with the latter eventually sliding into an empty net after being picked out by a pinpoint cross.
The lead did not last long though, as substitute Cristhian Stuani, who scored a penalty on his last visit to the Bernabeu three years ago, equalised from the spot after a harsh handball was awarded against Marco Asensio.
Madrid thought they had the winner when Rodrygo bundled home but it was controversially disallowed by the referee for an apparent foul on Gazzaniga.
TALKING POINT – HARSH PENALTY HANDS GIRONA A LIFELINE
There are few people who fully understand what the handball rule is in the age of VAR, but Real Madrid will certainly feel they have fallen on the wrong side of it.
The referee awarded a penalty against Asensio, who, after the referee had been told to look at the TV replays, was adjudged to have handled David Lopez’s header.
There was absolutely no intention in the incident though, with the ball deflecting onto Asensio’s arm off his chest from point-blank range. That decision cost Real two points in the title race.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Oriol Romeu (Girona). On an afternoon where Real Madrid struggled to break down a stubborn Girona defence, a lot of credit has to go to the man who was the line between the midfield and the back four.
The former Southampton and Chelsea man was far from a lone hand in executing his side’s game plan so well, but he regularly broke up play and prevented the likes of Valverde and Camavinga from pulling the strings as they so often do.
His positional sense throughout the game was excellent, and he showed just why he’s been playing top-flight football for so long.
REAL MADRID: Courtois 6; Carvajal 6, Rudiger 7, Alaba 6, Mendy 6; Modric 7, Camavinga 6, Kroos 6; Valverde 7, Rodrygo 6, Vinicius 7. Subs: Asensio 7, Militao n/a, Diaz n/a
Subs: Lopez, Lunin, Odriozola, Nacho, Vallejo, Vazquez, Ceballos, Hazard
GIRONA: Gazzaniga 7; Couto 6, Bueno 7, Martinez 6, Lopez 6, Gutierrez 6; Herrera 6, Romeu 8, Garcia 6, Fernandez 6; Castellanos 6. Subs: Riquelme 6, Hernandez 6, Villa n/a, Reinier n/a, Stuani 7
Subs: Martin, Fuidias, Espinosa, Terrats, Artero, Martin, Vallejo
20’ VALERY HEADS WIDE. Wow, that was a huge chance for Girona. The visitors have three men on one in the middle, of which one is Valery Fernandez. He’s picked out by the cross but heads wide.
24’ RODRYGO HITS THE POST! That’s the first real opening Real have created from inside the area, as Federico Valverde pulls back to Rodrygo, who sees a fierce, low shot rattle back off the post
39’ OFF THE BAR! What a let off for Real! Valery superbly holds off Carvajal down the left before picking out Yangel Herrera, who’s lurking on the edge of the area. He takes aim, and leaves the bar rocking with a thumping effort that clatters away to safety
70’ GOAL! REAL MADRID 1-0 GIRONA (Vinicius) Finally, we have lift off! The build-up from Real is so patient, with a sea of yellow shirts preventing them from shooting. Eventually, Valverde wrestles into some space on the right-hand side of the box and crosses to Vinicius, who slides into an empty net from just a yard out. He couldn’t miss!
73’ STUNNING GAZZANIGA SHOT! Wow, that’s an incredible stop. Asensio turns and shoots from close range and the keeper somehow tips over the bar.
80’ GOAL! REAL MADRID 1-1 GIRONA (Stuani). Wow! Out of nowhere, the referee, via VAR, awards a harsh penalty for handball against Asensio. Stuani the substitute steps up to take and sends Courtois the wrong way with a composed finish
89’ GOAL RULED OUT! Will this stand? Modric with the long ball forward for Diaz to chase on to. Rodrygo’s shot is saved. Does the keeper have it in his hands when Rodrygo finishes the rebound? It looks like it to me, and the officials agree. No goal!
90+1’ RED CARD! Toni Kroos, booked earlier on in the game, receives his second yellow, swiftly followed by a red