La Liga was welcomed back to the Bernabeu with a thrilling 2-2 encounter as Real Madrid took on Valencia. The match was certainly entertaining for the neutral watching, but Madrid fans will think what could have been. Madrid had moments of miscommunication, lack of cohesion, and missed chances — Far too many missed chances!
Benzema was the main culprit as he had more than a fair share of opportunities placed on a platter. Gareth Bale started well, but instead of his presence growing, it waned. The leader of this team was a 21-year-old, the Spanish jewel of Madrid’s crown — Marco Asensio. He put the team on his shoulders when they needed him most and never shied from taking players on or asking for the ball. Asensio earns MOTM honours tonight with Casemiro and Marcelo being other honourable mentions.
Keylor Navas—7: Navas had a good day and was not at fault for the two goals. Made a great save on a Dani Parejo free kick and had a brilliant side volley punt to unleash Benzema on a counter late in the 2nd half.
Dani Carvajal—7: Great attacking presence and got up and down the right flank. His ability to bring a long ball down with close control, all while having a man press him, is an understated quality. He was letdown by Asensio on the opening goal as there was miscommunication and Lato was able to get the cross in. His own cross late in the second half was met by Benzema’s head, but Valencia’s GK, Neto, got a hand and pushed it to the post.
Nacho—5: Not the best game for the Spanish international. Failed to win his aerial battles with Zaza and picked up a yellow early in the second half. Failed to form a solid partnership with Casemiro and struggled with some of Zaza’s movement.
Casemiro—8: Absolute beast. Forced to play in the center-back position due to injuries and suspensions and put in a solid performance. Stepped up big time in the second half and had some crucial tackles on Zaza, Gaya, and Rodrigo. Even found his way up the field for a testing shot that Neto could only parry. He was missed in the midfield as Kondogbia had his way for most of the night.
Marcelo—7: His left-footed service was a joy to behold. Unfortunately, none of his teammates were able to latch on to his crosses. A constant threat down the left, he helped stretch Valencia’s backline by staying wide all game. Could have done better on Valencia’s first goal as he lost Carlos Soler and didn’t pass him on to Nacho or Casemiro.
Toni Kroos—6.5: Mr. Consistency was solid all throughout the match until Kondogbia’s goal. Lost track of the Frenchman and was left scrambling at the last minute to try and close him down. Was taken off for Borja Mayoral and it may be due to Zidane’s frustration after the goal.
Luka Modric—7: A good, but not great game from Modric. He moved the ball well and combined with his teammates, but lacked that extra something special to make the Whites really tick. The midfield overall struggled to deal with Kondogbia, who along with Asensio, was the best player on the night.
Isco—6: Very Quiet first half, but found a few passes that broke Valencia’s defensive lines. Battled with Kondogbia all night, the Frenchman often getting the better of Isco. Think he would have had a role to play in the second half, but reports suggest he was vomiting and had an illness that forced Zidane’s hand.
Marco Asensio—9: Took the bull by the horns and opened the scoring in the 10th minute with a brilliant strike. He is always an option on the counter and always connecting with his teammates. He constantly swapped wings and his connection with the ball is unparalleled. Hounded the opposition and without a doubt was one of the best players on the pitch. Even his defensive performance was solid, apart from the miscommunication between he and Carvajal with Lato. 21-years-old and he was the man who stepped up in Cristiano’s absence. Took the free kick in the 85th minute and buried it in the side corner again. Zidane won’t be able to keep him out of the team much longer, it will be interesting to see who starts the big game come the season’s end.
Karim Benzema—5: As always, linked up well with his teammates and started counter attacks, but was lacking the final finish. Had three late chances in the first half that could have given the team momentum that were not tucked away. Credit to Neto, Valencia’s new Brazilian goalkeeper, who made some good saves. The second half was the same story. The poor guy couldn’t buy a goal. He missed countless opportunities and his harshest critics will certainly point to this game as evidence.
Gareth Bale—6: Had a good first half and seemed to be growing in confidence. Whipped in some incredible left-footed crosses both on the left and the right side. His second half was subdued. Madrid need more from a star player with a game in the balance. Asensio is really questioning his starting role. Was replaced by Lucas Vazquez in the 73rd minute.
Kovacic—7: Came in for Isco at half time and immediately stepped into the defensive midfield position. Won the free-kick which Asensio used to equalize. Made a positive impact and questions can be asked of why he didn’t start the game. He had a few questionable moments getting caught in possession as the anchor.
Lucas Vazquez— 6: Entered the game in the 73rd minute for Gareth Bale. Was unable to make the impact he did this time last year with Morata. Tracked back well defensively and offered width, but didn’t see enough of the ball.
Borja Mayoral—5: Came on late in the game for Toni Kroos and did not make much of an impact. Had the final chance of the game with a difficult header that did not test Neto. May be harsh given the circumstances, but if he wants to have more minutes he needs to come in and make an impact in a game like this.
Zidane—6: Many were upset with Zidane’s decision to play without a true anchor in either Kovacic or Marcos Llorente. Truly, Casemiro was the miss in midfield as Kondogbia was able to muscle his was through and boss the game. Being without Ramos, Varane, and Vallejo really hurt the team. In fairness to Zidane, I thought he made all the right substitutions and wasn’t afraid to take big names off (Isco, Bale, Kroos) as they weren’t performing.