Real Madrid beat Valencia 2 - 0 (Wass OG, Vazquez) at the Bernabeu. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.
For the first 45 minutes, Real Madrid put in one of their better halves of football this season — particularly off the ball. There was a certain energy infused into the team at kick-off, as Solari’s men, for this first time in a while, played with conviction from the start. The front six were cohesive, Modric looked more akin to his regular-self, Llorente’s positioning and calmness on the ball got the team out of tight spots, Ramos was snuffing out counters with his strong step-ups, and Dani Carvajal was lively on both ends of the field — subduing Gaya and exploiting the space behind the Valencia full-back.
The first half may have been some of the best counter-pressing we’ve seen all season from Real Madrid, and the team’s collective understanding to hound Valencia’s ball-carriers high up the pitch enabled Solari’s men to win the ball in some key areas. Ceballos, an important cog in any press, won the ball seven times, and others, particularly Modric, Ramos, Benzema, and Llorente, were ready to pounce on Marcelino’s build-up efforts.
Real Madrid’s control culminated in a deserved go-ahead goal in the eighth minute. Carvajal’s good work on the offensive flank was capped by a Daniel Wass own goal:
Real Madrid sustained their pressure and control for the remainder of the half. They were calm passing their way out of Valencia’s press, especially through the right where Modric and Llorente came over to combine with Varane, Carvajal, and Lucas. They also continued winning the ball in key areas, and Vazquez doubled-up on the flanks to deny Guedes space. The only real miscue in the first half came towards the end, where Santi Mani snuck in the half-space between Ramos and Reguilon — only to miss a golden chance.
There was a sense of calmness at the Bernabeu at half-time — maybe even a sense of relief here among the journalists that Real Madrid had this in cruise control. We know better. Things can chance in an instance, and Valencia came out in the second half with some more sustained pressure. Twice Courtois had to make two big saves, in what was possibly two of his bigger moments of the season. Ironically, both his saves were called back for offside anyway — but the Bernabeu didn’t care as they gave Thibaut a huge round of applause for being on his toes and denying Valencia.
Marcelino should get credit for his second half adjustments, but bringing Coquelin off (who was a liability in this game) for Kondogbia after the interval was too late a reaction, as by that time Valencia were pushing up and conceding a lot of counter attacks. While Valencia could’ve easily equalized if they showed up (surprisingly they didn’t, given how they always elevate their game against Real Madrid), but Solari’s men could’ve, and probably should’ve, scored three or four with their chances in transition.
They finally capitalized on the second goal in the 83rd, through a sequence (a run in-behind Gaya with a square ball across goal) that was available to them often in the last 25 minutes or so:
One note about Bale: he was taken off to deafening whistles. After a strong start, he disappeared a bit, which was correlated to him leaving the left flank. When he started on the left, he combined well with Reguilon and Benzema; but when he drifted centrally or to the opposite flank, we didn’t see him on the ball for large stretches of the game. In the second half, he lost the ball a couple times. That stuff just dominoes into a bad vibe with the fans. His La Liga slump extends to 10 games without a goal now.
There are a lot of interesting wrinkles in this game: Llorente’s press-resistance, Reguilon’s play, Carvajal’s return to form, Modric resembling some of his old-self, etc. We’ll break it all down on tomorrow’s podcast.