Real Madrid went to the Mestalla tonight half-asleep, and by the time they woke up, the damage was already done. Here are some scattered notes before some more thorough reviews which will go up later tonight:
This was a very good performance from Valencia, but it wasn’t amazing, nor was it really a stellar defensive display, or a carving offensive masterpiece. Real Madrid came out of the gates half asleep (or half drunk, whichever fits the aesthetics best). After a couple of bad turnovers, Real Madrid’s transition defense bit them hard. The team just couldn’t recover in time after miscues with the ball, and there was a lack of defensive coverage on the flanks — particularly on Orellana’s goal where Valencia had a vast area of space to work with on the counter.
I had (half) joked that Valencia have figured it out just in time for their match against Real Madrid with Voro settling in and Orellana and Zaza bolstering their dire attack. Never did I imagine that both those players would score within the first 10 minutes to give Valencia a two-goal cushion.
Once Real Madrid actually settled in to this match, their grave was already dug out for them. And it’s a shame — not only for the obvious reasons like dropping points at a key moment in the season, but also because Valencia had a lot of holes to exploit defensively. I’ll go through it more in my column, but even when Valencia were set-up to absorb a slow-paced Real Madrid scheme, Kroos exploited them really well with his vertical passing and movement off the ball.
Kroos, it has to be said, was Real Madrid’s best player tonight.
For Valencia, from an offensive perspective, they didn’t threaten much after their initial outburst. They were further defanged when Voro brought off Orellana. What they did do though, tremendously well, was disrupting Real Madrid’s defensive line. Zaza was a thorn all night with his pressing, and even though fans will be annoyed with his behaviour tonight, he did well to throw Carvajal around (literally), and get in defenders’ heads.
They also got a huge performance from Joao Cancelo. Valencia’s season up until now has been a ticking time-bomb, but Cancelo has been impressive all season. Today he encapsulated it.
This was a tough reaction to write. As you know these go up right at the final whistle, and it was hard to write while prying my eyes off a very eventful last quarter-of-an-hour. Both teams had shouts for penalties and free-kicks (the referee let A LOT go), and Valencia were putting in a tremendous defensive effort towards the end to fend off a barrage of Real Madrid attacks — mostly crosses from the flanks. We’ll have a post-game pod going up later, as well as a match review. In the meantime, let’s keep the panic to a minimum. I know this was tough to swallow, but it was never going to be a flawless ride en route to this title run. Adversity lies everywhere, but the team is still in a good position.