Ever since the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, distressing, agonizing, harrowing and traumatizing defeat in the Santiago Bernabeu to Football Club Barcelona last Sunday night, every game for Real Madrid has become a must-win.
After Real Madrid’s ‘B’ team humbled Deportivo La Coruna (2-6) in the Riazor, the underperforming ‘A’ team returned (along with James) to take the conquest for La Liga forward against Valencia — a club who even if relegated to the third division or even damned to the pits of hell, would put up a solid performance against Real Madrid. They also ensured the men in Royal White drop points in February by winning 2-1. Valencia infamously complicated the title race for Madrid in the 2014-15 seasons, gifting the Catalans the league title.
Tonight, Los Vikingos faced Los Che in the Santiago Bernabeu where the latter would have loved to once again repeat their feat of the 2014-15 season. However, history did not repeat itself as Zidane’s men beat them 2-1, winning the three points as they crawl towards their first league title in half a decade.
With barely a minute removed, Diego Alves’ long clearance found Santi Mina who managed to beat Sergio Ramos and register a shot on target, which was saved by Keylor Navas. Thankfully, the rebound, which too fell to Mina’s feet, could only hit the post on its way out.
The opening ten minutes saw an unorganized Real Madrid panicking against 12th placed Valencia. With debates about which group of Real Madrid was better running the whole week, the ‘A’ team did not do a lot to make their case.
Valencia did not let the Spanish Giants intimidate them one bit. Los Che travelled to the Capital to fight and win or go down swinging. This much was evident in the opening minutes when they went for an all-out attack instead of sitting back.
First the failed clearance by Ramos with his headed effort, and second the poor clearance by James — Real Madrid looked to be hanging on by a thread. With Valencia’s Mina, Parejo, Solero and Nani swinging around possession, the stage looked set for possibly another upset.
Ronaldo did well in creating space when there wasn’t any to provide an accurate cross to Karim Benzema, whose effort could only amount to catching-practice for Diego Alves.
Real Madrid’s shaky conduct continued as Valencia looked certain to score when Nani’s brilliant ball eclipsed the whole of Madrid’s defense and fell onto Orellana’s feet, only for the Chilean to make an embarrassing attempt which was way off target when he had only Navas to beat. Zidane’s men were barely in the game as Valencia could have been easily up 2-0 in only 17 minutes of play.
Benzema had another opportunity on goal, but failing to find any space whatsoever resulted in the Frenchman shooting it straight at Alves. Pressure mounting on big Benz as he has been less than impressive in La Liga.
Ronaldo’s miserable run with free-kicks continued as his attempt to dip it inside the net did not work and it was always going over. James had a curling free-kick which was swiftly hit and looked to go in the far corner of the net, only to miss it by a few yards.
Carvajal, who was foolishly given all the time in the world by Valencia, with Nani not anywhere close to even challenge the Spaniard, delivered a pin-point ball which was found by a gravity-defying Ronaldo, who made no mistake in heading the ball in the back of the net, making it 1-0 for the hosts and reducing Diego Alves to a Mannequin.
The Ronaldo goal pushed Zidane’s men into the driving seat, with Valencia slowly losing their momentum. Real started dominating the midfield in the form of Kroos and Modric. Marcelo, who has played eight matches in 25 days, showed no signs of slowing down as he did well to fight for the ball on the left wing. The first half came to a halt with Real Madrid leading Valencia with Ronaldo’s opener; 1-0.
Real Madrid started the second half looking for blood as Valencia were unable to respond, and struggled to clear the ball away.
A little after the commencement of the first half, it was Casemiro who got what he was looking for all match — ‘trouble’ in the form of a Yellow card after tugging Munir’s jersey. As usual, he expressed shock upon getting the deserved Yellow card.
Big Benz did well to find a way to get past Garay and get a cracking curling shot, only for it to unfortunately kiss the post. In the same play, Modric was manhandled by Parejo which resulted in a penalty. Real Madrid’s Portuguese Talisman stepped up for the spot-kick, but was second-bested by Alves, who had his number this time after having getting beat earlier in the match. It was the underrated Brazilian’s 24th penalty save of a total of 49 that he has faced as of now in his career.
James had a go on goal after his excellent run through the middle, which was off by not a lot. In the 62nd minute, a brilliant ball by Modric found James who left it for Casemiro, but was found by Benzema, who could have passed it to James, who was making a run for a certain goal. Instead, the Frenchman came up with an uninspiring effort which was disappointing to say the least. Not so big from Big Benz there (no pun intended).
In the 64th minute, Modric won Real Madrid a free-kick when he was fouled by Mangala just outside the box. James stepped up for the free-kick, but his effort could only hit the wall. The Colombian was then replaced by Asensio. Solid outing for James tonight to follow his excellent performance at the Riazor.
Rodrigo, who came in for Nani, had a brilliant opportunity to score after an unsuspecting Madrid were surprised with Garay’s accurate ball. Rodrigo’s effort went wide of the bar, but that could have been the equalizer. Los Blancos’ one goal lead never truly looked comfortable.
Zidane made his next sub in the form of Morata who replaced the less than impressive Benzema. The Spaniard was cheered by the Real Madrid faithful; while his French teammate did not share the same warmth.
In the 77th minute, substitute Asensio whipped in a brilliant cross to find Ronaldo who could not get a proper touch and slammed the post along with Valencia number 26; Toni Lato. That looked very painful as it was pretty evident that Ronaldo connected with the post ribs first. Real Madrid’s greatest goal-scorer is who he is for a reason, as he seemed fine to resume play. Props to Ronaldo for continuing after that.
Casemiro was not done looking for trouble as he committed a foul from behind which was a certain second booking; i.e his sending off. However, call it a miracle if you will, but he stayed on. But, the damage had been already done with Parejo scoring with a fantastic free-kick, placing the ball perfectly in the top corner. Nothing Navas could do here.
Suddenly, Madridistas were taken down memory lane when the very same Valencia, and the very same, very good Diego Alves, stopped Ronaldo’s penalty — complicating the title race two years back, during the 2014-15 season.
I, for one, had lost my appetite for dinner with the thought that history was going to repeat itself and Real Madrid would once again lose the title to our arch-rivals Barcelona, thanks to Valencia.
Los Vikingos’ one goal cushion did not look comfortable for even one solitary second. Zidane’s men seemed to have paid a heavy price for making nothing of their brilliant chances and conceding this late, courtesy of a late challenge by Casemiro.
But, how silly of me to have that thought when I was a supporter of Real freakin’ Madrid! It was the ever-so dependable Marcelo who produced a moment of magic, by finding himself on a cross, cutting towards his right and beating the Valencia defense to register a shot on target which beat the mighty Diego Alves.
1) Initially after seeing Marcelo in the line-up, I was less than happy as he played the Deportivo game in mid-week and is much needed against Atletico in the first leg of the Champions League clash. But, after seeing how the game folded, I take everything back. Had it not been for Marcelo, Zidane’s men surely would have dropped points.
2) Ronaldo scored for the first time since March 12th in La Liga. He hasn’t been terrible, but has been less prolific than his usual standards.
3) Props to Ronaldo for being so mature with his playing time. It is evident Zidane wants to provide Ronaldo with adequate rest as the Portuguese is in his 30s now and recovery time takes a lot longer.
4) Keylor Navas did brilliantly in thwarting off Mina’s first minute attempt in goal. Could literally do nothing for Parejo’s well struck free-kick.
5) Carvajal’s ability to provide pinpoint game-changing crosses is really very underrated. So much so that it should be a crime.
6) Benzema had another disappointing outing. He had one good attempt on goal through his curling shot that hit the post, but other than that he was mostly miserable.
7) James Rodriguez had an outstanding match for the second time in a week. Always impresses when provided with the opportunity.
8) Wonder what’s going on inside Zidane’s head regarding his choice of striker for the Atletico match. Surely Morata has made a good case to start over an uninspiring Benzema.
9) Casemiro, for all his talent in the world, goes into challenges quite recklessly and invites trouble for himself as well as the team. Zidane needs to give him a piece of his mind to discourage such behaviour from a professional in such crucial stages of the football season.