An eventful game - yet infuriating. There was enough in this match to tear your hair out. A phenomenal start to the match lead by a clinical BBC (particularly Bale) and an active Kovacic was overshadowed by at least one missed penalty call for Real Madrid, a reckless studs up challenge from behind which resulted in a red card for Kovacic, and an out-of-form Valencia team who pressure a pinned back Real Madrid team relentlessly.
Here's two quick notes:
- There will be lots of raised eyebrows tonight for Rafa Benitez. His move to put Kovacic in the starting lineup over James and Isco was fine, and the fans exaggerated this decision. Kovacic played well as a two-way midfielder - helping in defense and pushing up to support the front three. But suspicions really arose when Benzema was pulled in the second half for Lucas Vasquez. Was it the right one? It will be justified. Benzema was one of the better players tonight, and Real Madrid was getting overworked in midfield. Perhaps Benitez felt Lucas Vasquez's diligent nature could help re-stabilize the midfield, but surely this was short-lived when Real lost Kovacic.
- There's always positives. Tonight, it was Gareth Bale. He's growing from one of the team's better players in the last few games, to a really confident star who looks to take over the game. His dribbling in tight spaces has looked really good, and that's huge, because this was widely known as one of his weak points - that he could only thrive in space. The world was on its feet when Bale was through on goal in the 93rd minute - and that was unfortunately his worst play of the game. He could have really been a hero, but instead skied it over the bar. Let's see how forgiving fans will be.