Model of Play
Real Madrid fielded the same team that took to the pitch against Napoli a week ago. This was evidence of how seriously the team approached this contest. Gareth Bale was on the bench after playing his first minutes for several months on Saturday. Valencia, coming off a win and a draw in their last two games, played a solid XI featuring their main attacking threats including Orellana, Nani, Munir, and Zaza. Former Real Madrid players Ezequil Marcelo Garay and Dani Parejo also started.
“Every moment is critical[,]” Zidane reflected in the pre-match press conference alluding to the increasing importance of matches in the upcoming stretch of the season. These words resonated strongly in the opening ten minutes of the game as two moments redefined the tone of the 85 minutes that followed and set into motion a different course for both teams. Zaza’s incredible goal and the home team capitalizing on Varane’s mistake minutes later to double their lead completely disrupted Real Madrid’s gameplan and forced an expected narrative of Madrid pushing against a resilient defensive bunker.
The disorganization of Real Madrid’s defense at the onset was due to poor concentration and a hungry Valencia team. Real Madrid reacted very positively to going down however. The midfield composure of Kroos and Modric provided a stable platform that helped propel offensive actions. This brought Benzema and especially Ronaldo into the game as the team worked through controlled possession to manufacture several good chances and openings. James, although relatively quiet, also played his part as he provided an additional spark that never quite fully ignited our offense but did trigger creative sequences.
Marcelo and Carvajal were their typified swashbuckling selves marauding down the wings and combining with the midfielders to create spaces from which to cross the ball into the box. Unfortunately, the quality of their delivery was poor and many of their crosses went to waste failing to cause any genuine danger. Valencia, recognizing the significance of their lead and potential to stifle Real Madrid, formed a compact low-block absorbing the persistent prodding of their guests quite well. In addition, they used the speed and technical ability of their forwards (particuarly Nani, Munir, and Parejo) to spring forward any time they recovered possession.
Their transition play proved challenging as they would quickly cut through Madrid’s broken shape (due to their high positioning) and if not for poor final touches could have engineered a few more clear cut goal scoring chances. This was less pronounced in the second half as their receded shape was reinforced because of the natural evolution of the match (Madrid pushing more and more while Valencia began to tire). Despite the failure to create a consistent stream of legitimate chances, Real Madrid’s attacking intensity was admirable. Benzema shone utilizing smart positioning and very incisive decision-making in the final third to optimize plays.
Again, it must be emphasized this was made possible by the smoothness of Kroos, Modric, and James’ passing. They were heavily involved (partially due to the state of the game as Valencia deliberately gave up possession) and increased the fluidity of transition and offense.
The introduction of Bale, Vazquez, and Nacho while not visibly significantly altering events did provide some advantages. Bale and Vazquez’s energy was good and the former was a great nuissance for Valencia. In spite of this, leaving Morata on the bench and substituting Modric was questionable. Morata’s physicality and aerial strength seemed fitting for the night and Modric is always important for verticality in ways that few others in the team can replicate.
Summary of Select Key Chances
Minute 4: Gayà-->Orellana-->Gayà-->Mangala-->Alves-->Cancelo-->Munir-->Zaza-->Goal
Valencia smartly played their way out of their zone under pressure from Real Madrid who were pressing intensely. Although Kroos could have closed down Cancelo sooner and Marcelo’s tracking of Munir wasn’t ideal, the goal was down to the brilliance of Zaza’s control and finish.
Minute 8: Munir-->Zaza-->Nani-->Orellana-->Goal
Varane’s poor touch led to Valencia’s second goal and ultimate death blow. The french defender intercepted a clearance but lost possession of the ball in a vulnerable position as Madrid were pushed up high. Los Che took full advantage as they expertly executed the counter attack.
Minute 21: Casemiro-->Kroos-->Modric-->Kroos-->James-->Modric-->James-->Ronaldo-->Kroos-->James->Benzema-->Shot on target
Real Madrid demonstrated good ball movement after Casemiro intercepted a pass in the middle third. Kroos, James, and Modric settled play in a composed manner before James engaged Ronaldo to disrupt Valencia’s shape. This created space for Benzema to take a very testing shot at the top of the box that Diego Alves tipped over.
Minute 36: Alves-->Gaya-->Parejo-->Nani-->Parejo-->Shot off target
Valencia’s dangerous transition game exploited Carvajal’s vacated right wing spot. The Spaniard’s cross was caught by Alves who quickly played Gaya. The ball found its way to Nani who used his speed to bypass a covering Casemiro. He patiently waited and released a pass for Parejo to take an unchallenged shot from a great position. Kroos failed to close him down quickly enough.
Minute 44: Kroos-->Ramos-->Marcelo-->Ronaldo-->Goal
One of the few instances in the first half that the fullbacks’ delivery was threatening. Ronaldo’s exceptional header guided the ball past a helpless Diego Alves. The moments leading to it saw good Madrid pressure to win the ball back and crisp direct passing to get it to Marcelo.
Minute 92: Carvajal-->Kroos-->Nacho-->Marcelo-->Ronaldo-->Shot off target
One of the better chances produced from the slew of crosses in the second half. Valencia’s compact shape forced Real Madrid to focus their attacks through the wings. This particular chance started with a quick throw-in from Carvajal in the dying minutes, the ball moved laterally to Marcelo whose excellent cross found Ronaldo open in the box.
Real Madrid suffered a frustrating blow to their La Liga title challenge as they couldn’t find the equalizer and lost the match 2-1. It ultimately boiled down to the first ten minutes as recovering from a 2-0 deficit is very difficult — moreso when facing an organized and unwavering defense. The balance of chances based on shots heavily favor Zidane’s men but that belies the truth and masks Valencia’s relative command of proceedings. Looking at shots on target (5-5) and the quality of chances paints a much more even picture (although Real Madrid still come out ahead and likely could have gotten the equalizer on another day).
The match will be concerning for the table leaders as defensive mistakes have not been isolated incidents this season and can be devastating in crucial moments. It is especially tough to succeed when a team has to suffer for their goals but do not make it equally difficult for their opponents to score. Varane was a key culprit in the game being at fault for the giveaway leading to Valencia’s second goal and committing other damning errors throughout the match — it must be made clear he was not solely responsible for the loss. Even though we failed to score the second goal, it was encouraging to see that it wasn’t primarily due to conversion issues and that the team did not lose the plot, so to speak, chasing the game. Their composure remained and is a quality that almost got them a draw.
We did some good things with the ball but we lacked a bit of clarity with the final pass.
Although overreliance on crossing is a slight issue, the main problem from an offensive standpoint was the quality of the crosses and the decision-making of the players in the final third. The team has shown they can do better in this regard so it is expected that they would be able to display an improved performance in a similar situation going forward.