Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno
5 beautiful goals are scored in Madrid's finest half of football this season at the Mestalla.
If the game played on Tuesday against Valencia at the Santiago Bernabéu had a problem from Real Madrid's point of view it was a certain disconnect between the three parts of the team - defence, midfield, and attack. All sections worked well individually, but transitions were difficult, particularly in the first half of that game, when Valencia had dominated.
Today, Real Madrid showed every indication that they, and their coach José Mourinho, had absorbed whatever lessons they needed to from that game to face Valencia again, at the Mestalla.
Both teams played fairly high defensive lines. Both played a wide game "on the chalk" with Madrid's Ronaldo and di María initially very much involved in trying to get attacks going. There is a received wisdom in Spain that playing high lines against Real Madrid is suicide. This game's first half provided the perfect example of why this is the case - especially when a team also tries to play wide against two of the best wingers in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and di María .
Madrid's line-up: Casillas; Arbeloa, Varane, Albiol, Coentrão; Xabi, Khedira; di María, Özil, Cristiano; Higuaín
The First Half - 5 Beautiful Goals
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the first half is that the scoreline flatters Valencia. Madrid could have easly had 7 or 8 goals.
In the first few exchanges neither side really controlled the match. It was an open game with quick changes in possession between the teams. Initially, Madrid's defence even looked a little frail - conceding 3 corners in quick succession. Neither team looked particularly dominant.
But what Madrid did better in the first half was that their transitions were faster and more accurate allowing effective breaks of the type that led to the first , second, third and fifth goals - an improvement on the game in the midweek. And as the goals rained in and Valencia pushed forward to try to salvage the scoreline, Madrid simply took advantage of the even greater space between Valencia's goal and their defence.
The first chance for Madrid, in the 8th minute, involved stellar work from both Sami Khedira and Álvaro Arbeloa - who put Higuaín through on goal. He missed the open goal, but less than a minute later and on the other side of the pitch, two different players - Özil and di María - combined beautifully to put Higuaín through on goal again. This time there was no mistake and Pipita put Madrid ahead in the 9th minute.
The rapidity of these chances and the many different players involved would epitomize the rest of the half.
The second goal involved a defence splitting pass from Özil to Ronaldo who slightly miscontrolled the ball. Rather than shoot, he waited for di María to finish his run and made the final pass for the Argentine's goal. 2-0.
Within about a minute, Özil passed through to Coentrão who passed on to Ronaldo. With his pace and two step-overs he lost his defender. 3-0.
It was just over half an hour into the game and the Mestalla began to empty as fans had had enough.
That's a pity because the fourth goal was perhaps the night's most beautiful: Higuaín and di María exchanged passes around the edge of the area after a period of possession. Ronaldo and Özil exchanged passes again. Ronaldo scored. 4-0.
And the final goal: Özils trademark defence-splitting pass found di María. 5-0.
The Second Half
There's really nothing much to note about this half of football. Madrid controlled the match entirely at this point and although they sat a little deep, Valencia did not threaten much more than long-range shots. If Mourinho was trying out his tactics on protecting a lead for the coming game against Valencia in the cup midweek then the 45 minute experiment was excellent.
And it was obvious that Madrid were thinking ahead. The outstanding midfield triangle - Alonso, Özil and Khedira - were all substituted out relatively early to make way for (respectively) Michael Essien (who got a rare outing in his actual midfield role), Luka Modrić and José Callejón.
And for all their control of the game, Madrid continued to threaten, with Cristiano Ronaldo twice coming close to getting his hat-trick.
Forwards Özil, Ronaldo, di María, Higuaín and midfielder Khedira were the stand-out players for Madrid in a game that was heavy on attack - though it should be said that all players on the pitch were outstanding and the fluidity of the transitions and the quality of the team play represented the best half of football Madrid has played all season - albeit with three quarters of Madrid's first choice defence still missing.
Mesut Özil could have had a hat-trick of assists by only the 30th minute, when Madrid were only up 0-1. By the time Madrid were 5 goals up he had had a hand in every single one. Sami Khedira's continuing brilliant for and work-rate - flying from one end of the pitch to the other - was incredible. Cristiano Ronaldo and di María had two goals and an assist each and their speed rampaging up the wings again and again showed their drive and commitment, even when Madrid were already several goals up.
Alonso was brilliant, as always. Varane was calm and his speed and intelligence allowed him to cover for his fullback. Coentrão had an assist, and cleared a ball off the line with his knee to keep the clean-sheet and although he and Arbeloa were carded, both will have been pleased to have played so well. As for Albiol, his game was excellent. This is now the third game in a row in which he has acquitted himself with calm and maturity.
And finally: Iker Casillas. A solid game and a clean sheet.
Madrid will play their next game at the same venue midweek for the Copa del Rey. I'm sure we all wish them the best of luck.
Who Was Madrid's Man of The Match
Cristiano Ronaldo (49 votes)
Mesut Ozil (75 votes)
Angel di Maria (21 votes)
145 total votes