The last hurdle before Clasico was not a mere speed bump — it was a mountain guarded by a team that always raises its game against Real Madrid, and is coming off the high of beating Ajax in Amsterdam. It is not ridiculous to say that the trip to Mestalla is one of the most difficult games on the schedule every single year.
That didn’t change tonight. Real Madrid found it difficult to create clear-cut changes against an organize defensive block.
The first half was a professional display from Zidane’s men. There was a clear purpose to pin Valencia who naturally sat deep. One of Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, or Isco were always available in the half-spaces. And though Valencia marked those runs efficiently, it left more space for Toni Kroos and Fede Valerde to find room at the top of the box. Fede, it should be noted, won nearly every single loose ball in the first half; while Kroos was playing possessed. The German found all those aforementioned runs brilliantly, and completed all 60 of his passes in the first half. They were difficult passes too, with two of them in particular completely breaking Valencia’s press.
When Real Madrid lost the ball early on, they immediately won it back with a counter-press. Wass and Gaya both found it challenging to find outlets, as did goalkeeper Domenech.
There was a fluidity to the team’s movement. Isco and Rodrygo were constantly interchangeable on both flanks, and Rodrygo in particular was good on several individual defensive sequences. Karim Benzema was so good at dropping into midfield to dispossess opponents.
But all of that amounted to: Nothing. The fluidity had its perils defensively. Fede was often roaming on the right side, which left a gap in behind Real Madrid’s midfield with plenty of defensive scrambles. The team found it difficult creating clear cut chances. Nacho generated a couple dangerous crosses from the left — one of which found Benzema with a glancing header. That chance, along with the Kroos and Fede’s long distance shots, were Real Madrid’s best creations in that first frame.
Something needed to change, but it didn’t. Valencia grew into the game with each passing minute. Their build-up improved, and Celades’s men started to test Real Madrid’s high line. When they scored the game winner, Real Madrid just had no numbers in transition after Nacho lost a duel in midfield on a long ball:
GOAL FOR VALENCIA!— Strive Sport (@strivesport) December 15, 2019
Daniel Wass finds Carlos Soler who puts the hosts ahead with just over 10 minutes remaining!
As it stands, Barcelona are a point clear going into El Clásico!#LiveOnStrive pic.twitter.com/tAfoDximlN
In the second half, what had kept Real Madrid in the game — ball control and pressing — slowly dissipated into thin air. Once Valencia got their goal, not only was it difficult to break them down, but Zidane’s men even had difficulty crossing the half way line, and Jovic’s entrance for Modric only cemented that point.
But then, this, somehow, happened:
UNBELIEVABLE SCENES AT THE MESTALLA!— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) December 15, 2019
⚪ Real Madrid equalise with the last kick of the game!
Thibaut Courtois almost scores a header, and then Karim Benzema scrambles the rebound home! pic.twitter.com/RMFUyVjAb0
We’ll break this down in more detail in the coming hours.