Real Madrid will take on Valencia CF Saturday night (22:00 CET, 4:00 PM EST) in the Mestalla stadium, marking the first big test of the 2011-2012 season for José Mourinho and company. So far this season, Real Madrid has feasted on low-calibre opponents, jacking up their point totals with mostly easy games: this schedule--and their admittedly fantastic play--has propelled them to a three point lead in the Liga BBVA over rivals FC Barcelona.
But all of this is about to change for Cristiano Ronaldo and company: Real Madrid's next Liga games are today's clash away to a highly motivated Valencia side, home to cross-town rivals Atlético Madrid (aka "the Fighting Radamel Falcaos"), away to a Sporting Gijón side that has never fully recovered from coach Manuel Preciado's fight with José Mourinho last season, then home to host Barcelona in the first clásico.
Madrid needs to take each match one step at a time, and not get caught up in the bigger scheduling issues: obviously, the clásico on December 10th should remain in the back of their minds, but they need to take care of the more pressing issues first--namely, Saturday's tilt with a very strong Valencia side.
Analysis after the jump.Valencia comes into tonight's match looking for revenge. Last season, Real Madrid dominated los ché at the Mestalla, inflicting the worse home beating Valencia had ever recieved: 3-6 in total, but los blancos had a comfortable 1-6 lead by 65 minutes. Kaká, the protagonist of last year's pasting, will not play Saturday night, as he is still recovering from an injury.
Roberto Soldado--among others--is on record talking about how embarrassing that match was, and about how he feels extra-motivated to take on his ex-team. This is not a good sign for Real Madrid, considering how well Soldado has been playing this season. This feeling of vengeance, of looking to restore their sullied name, is an extremely powerful motivator, and should not be taken lightly.
At the same time, Valencia is a depleted side: they lost playmaker and budding superstar (and ex-Madridista) Juan Mata this offseason to Chelsea, and they lost central playmakers Sergio Canales (yup, him) and Éver Banega (...fine, I won't make a joke) to injuries within the last couple of weeks. Their defense, particularly down the wings, has looked mediocre-to-bad all season, and they are very liable to get caught on the counter-attack as they don't have a lot of speed in the defensive midfield and central defense.
A lot of how the game will play out will depend on Valencia's attitude, both from the players and from the fans: if Madrid snags a goal early, will the players sit back shocked, or will they push even harder? Will the fans silently fume? Or will the push their team on further? In either scenario, Madrid will look to exploit holes in the Valencia defense created by attacking runs and emotional play.
The key thing to watch in this match is how Madrid look on the counter attack after a long weekend of international soccer: if Mesut Özil, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuaín and company look tired or, worse, toothless, then Madrid might be in big trouble. We can expect Valencia to come out swinging; what we don't know is whether Madrid will be firing on a high enough level to catch them with their guard down.