Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, foreground, views for the ball during the La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Getafe at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
BARCELONA, Spain — After watching Real Madrid lose its first match in three months, Carlo Ancelotti had one simple message for his players: The holidays are over.
Madrid’s run of 15 consecutive games without a loss in all competitions came to an end Sunday when it slumped to a 1-0 defeat at modest Getafe in the Spanish league after a nearly two-week winter break.
League leaders Madrid fell behind early when Getafe striker Enes Unal stole the ball from defender Éder Militão near the goal and beat Thibaut Courtois. Luka Modric’s shot off the woodwork in the first half was as close as Madrid got to an equalizer.
Even though Madrid remained in control of the league — with an eight-point lead over second-place Sevilla — Ancelotti chastised his team for its attitude.
“We can’t get carried away by this loss,” Ancelotti said. “We are still leaders and are excited about what is to come… A player who normally stands out for his defensive play gifted them their goal. It seems we didn’t finish the year well. We were lacking focus, lacking commitment. This must be a wake-up call. My team looked like it was still on holidays.”
While Madrid had got back several players — with the important exception of forward Vinícius Júnior, who had been out due to COVID-19 — Barcelona earned a 1-0 win at Mallorca with a team badly hit by the coronavirus.
The absence of 10 first-team players gave the rarely used Luuk de Jong the chance to finally show his worth as a striker since he joined Barcelona on loan at the end of the summer transfer market as a bargain replacement for Antoine Griezmann.
Madrid’s previous loss came on Oct. 3 when it fell 2-1 at Espanyol. Since then, it had won 13 and drawn two across all competitions.
Ancelotti had steered Madrid to wins over Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and Inter Milan during its unbeaten run.
But it was unable to rally after a mistake by Militão who tarnished his otherwise excellent season with centerback partner David Alaba, with the pair filling the void left by the exits of veterans Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
Toni Kroos appeared to have snuffed out Getafe’s attack when he recovered the ball and shuffled it over to Militão, but Unal pressured him hard and poked the ball clear before scoring in the ninth minute.
“Sometimes as a striker, you just sense that there can be something there. Luckily it worked out,” Unal said about his goal that gave Getafe its first victory over its star-studded crosstown rivals since August 2012.
Getafe started the season losing its first seven matches. But the modest club from a neighborhood of Madrid has turned things around in the league after Quique Sánchez Flores took over in early October and is unbeaten in six rounds.
Sunday’s matches were the first to be played since Spanish health authorities put back in place caps on attendance after the steep rise in COVID-19 infections. All games are limited to 75% of capacity, with some regions like Catalonia and the Basque Country applying even lower limits.
Sevilla visits Cádiz on Monday.
DE JONG’S CHANCE
Barcelona traveled to Mallorca with 10 players from its “B” team after a spate of COVID-19 cases. Coach Xavi Hernández had to align a front line with De Jong flanked by youth players Ferran Jutglà and Ilias Akhomach.
De Jong, who had failed to earn consistent playing time, succeeded in providing a potent attacking threat for the visitors.
The Dutch striker tapped the ball onto the post moments before he produced a superb bicycle kick that rattled the crossbar. He then headed in his goal when he reached a cross by Óscar Mingueza at the far post just before halftime.
Barcelona still needed a stoppage-time save by Marc-Andre ter Stegen to rise to fifth place, one point from the Champions League spots.
BACK ON TRACK
Ángel Correa scored twice as Atlético Madrid beat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 and end its worst losing run since Diego Simeone took over the club a decade ago.
The defending champions had not lost more than two league games in a row under Simeone. But it finished 2021 with consecutive defeats to Mallorca, Madrid, Sevilla and Granada.
Atlético leapfrogged Rayo to reclaim fourth place.
Iago Aspas scored twice to lead Celta Vigo to a 2-0 win at Real Betis, which was left in third place just one point in front of Atlético.
Elche coach Francisco Rodríguez was sent off for repeatedly protesting during his team’s 0-0 draw with Granada, while Real Sociedad drew 1-1 at Alavés.
AL WAKRAH — Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks in his team's 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout at the World Cup on Monday, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament.
MOMBASA — Scientists around the world are warning governments who will be gathering in Montreal this week for the United Nations biodiversity summit to not repeat past mistakes and are urging officials to “avoid trade-offs” between people and conservation needs in a report Monday.
ATHENS – A ‘Virtual Assistance’ service for the general public has been launched in 85 countries by the Foreign Ministry of Greece, including in all 126 Greek consular locations, according to an announcement.
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