Barely a month ago, Real Madrid failed to play with intensity during the first half even though Barcelona had dropped points against Deportivo. This time, Los Blancos kicked off the game with a better attitude and managed to earn an early 0-1 lead after a jaw-dropping play by Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo finished by Benzema.
Benítez's men could not sustain that kind of display for the last 20 minutes of the first half. Only Kovacic showed once again that he's more than ready to be a regular starter in this team with the help of Karim Benzema, who is playing a key part this season. It would be fair to say that Keylor Navas wasn't needed until Andre Gomes proved that Pepe should not be ahead of Varane in the rotation by being fouled inside the box for what ended up being Valencia's equalizer right before the half-time whistle. Varane was healthy enough to make it into the squad list but Pepe was the man who ultimately got the nod in what probably was Benítez's only mistake in his starting XI.
The referee was one of the protagonists in this match after missing a clear penalty on Gareth Bale seconds before Valencia's equalizer. Later, during the second half, he sent Kovacic off with a straight red card off a very strong -- and somewhat reckless -- tackle by the one player who was making a case for himself. Blaming the referee for Real's struggles would also be naif as Benítez inexplicably decided to take Benzema off the game for Lucas Vázquez early in the second half. Benzema is irreplaceable in this team and even if the coach decides to send him to the bench, Isco or James Rodríguez should be the ones chosen to replace Benzema's creativity.
Real Madrid somehow managed to play well and score the 1-2 goal off a brilliant header by Gareth Bale on a set piece, but their lead evaporated barely 30 seconds after that when Madrid allowed two consecutive headers near their six-yard box that led to Alcácer's equalizer. Neither Ramos nor Pepe have been playing better than Varane and yet Benítez decided to start both of them. One can only wonder if Varane's presence in Pepe's spot would have changed the course of the match.
Navas had time to leave his mark on this match when he saved what would have been the game-winning goal for Valencia in injury time. Negredo faced the Costa Rican keeper but couldn't send the ball to the back of the net and kept things even.
In the end, this was a bittersweet 2-2 draw for Real Madrid because Benítez and his men did more than enough to earn the win and all three points available. Leaving Varane on the bench and taking Benzema off hurt the team and ultimately cost Real Madrid two points.