Real Madrid win 1 - 4 away to Valencia (Ronaldo x2, Kroos, Marcelo; Mina). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
It wasn’t a perfect 90 minutes, but it was a great result -- a winning scoreline which Real Madrid held on to and eventually pulled away from, and a result that the fanbase would’ve undoubtedly taken if it was presented as an option before the match started.
Real Madrid’s victory today came on the back of their first half performance, mostly, as well as their late-game surge. In the opening frame, they emphasized defensive security, counter-attacks, and some incisive (and to be frank, also inaccurate), vertical passing. Zidane’s men crossed the ball just five times in the first half, and 12 times overall — a sharp contrast from their season average of 27.
With those first-half counter-attacks, there came plenty of missed opportunities. Valencia gambled with their press often, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo open high up the pitch with plenty of space to work with. The passing out of the back though, wasn’t efficient, and the build-up from the defensive line wasn’t consistent enough to hit those open outlets. The half, ultimately, was defined by two penalties — both clear, and both conceded by Montoya. On the other end, Keylor made some good saves, with the most notable being after an outrageous sequence and shot from Kondogbia (who was generally excellent in this game). Zidane’s men were up by two goals at half-time, and had played a solid 45 minutes, even if there was plenty to improve on.
The second half, as has been the case multiple times this season, was more laboured. Marcelino was forced to take off Guedes at half-time for Carlos Soler. This change, on the surface, was welcome for Madridistas. Guedes is Valencia’s most dangerous player, even if he struggled to get going in this game. Had they been able to keep him in, there was plenty of space in-behind Marcelo to take advantage of. On the flipside, Soler, while a great young player himself, hadn’t played in a while, and he had just come back from injury.
Yet, Valencia surged, and Soler started picking up passes immediately. Marcelino’s men attacked in waves, and really tested Real Madrid’s backline. They pressed them into losing possession, forced last-ditched defending from Varane and Nacho, and demanded some more great saves from Navas. They eventually scored — Santi Mina taking advantage from a Bale / Nacho collision to score from a corner. Real Madrid also couldn’t test Valencia’s make-shift Coquelin / Garay partnership on the other end.
With about 15 minutes to go though, the team clicked into another gear. We mentioned that in the first half, there was less emphasis from crossing from the flanks. Well, it was the combination play down the central channels during the home stretch of this match that iced the game. Substitutes Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic both set-up up a goal respectively with some beautiful passing, and it was the off-ball movement that made it happen:
In the last two La Liga games, Real Madrid have outscored their opponents 11-2, and are starting to make ground to get themselves out of fourth place. No hay Liga, but, the results, and the momentum that goes with it, are essential.