Real Madrid went into the Mestalla tonight against a Valencia side that has turned a corner since January, and tonight, Marcelino’s men encapsulated what they’ve been of late: A team that defends well and grinds out narrow victories.
Valencia weren’t great tonight, but they didn’t need to be other-worldly against a Real Madrid side who couldn’t create. Zidane’s men controlled the tempo of the play for large stretches, but struggled finding space in the final third. After some shaky passing out of the back initially, where Valencia pressed high and unnerved the backline; they began to move better, pass better, and get up the field. Valencia’s press waned, and Real Madrid shifted upfield. But as Valencia drew back into a deeper block, their scheme became more compact, and on rare Real Madrid breaks, Valencia’s transition defense was excellent.
There was a lack of clarity on what the offense was trying to do. While Real recycled possession comfortably, they couldn’t penetrate. There wasn’t enough movement behind Parejo and Kondogbia. On rare moments where Benzema, Vazquez, and Asensio moved there, the passing wasn’t surgical enough. Marcelo’s passing was off. Lucas Vazquez worked hard defensively, but his touch and passing were also nervy. Luka Modric would try to cut inside from the right to catch the defense napping, but Valencia closed him, and the entire offense, every step of the way. Alvaro Odriozola, who was encouraging with the ball at his feet (while displaying his ability to catch overhit through-balls), found himself in crossing positions without a presence in the box to feed. It didn’t help that Gaya, who was arguably Valencia’s best player, was tremendous on both ends of the field to subdue Real Madrid’s right back.
Despite all that, Valencia didn’t threaten much offensively, and it wasn’t until Real Madrid started leaving space at the top of the box that Marcelino’s men found a lifeline. After Valencia opened the scoring, they got second wind, and both Ramos and Varane had to cover multiple positions. (Both were good with what they had to deal with, though Ramos’s passing to start was poor. Varane in particular was solid.)
You can see some of the chaos on the Guedes goal. Ramos comes to cover, but aims to block a shot he thought would be slung at the far post:
| GOAL! |— Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK) April 3, 2019
Goncalo Guedes breaks the deadlock at Mestalla!
A fine strike that sneaks its way past Keylor Navas... pic.twitter.com/RRbzwsfUdY
Zidane made three subs in the second half: Isco for Kroos; Bale for Asensio; Mariano for Vazquez. There was an uptick in the tempo of the attack, some good pressing, and some bigger presences in the box for Valencia to worry about — but to no avail, and Valencia remained solid defensively while countering Real’s high-line when they could.
Valencia made it 2 - 0 through in Ezquiel Garay header with six minutes to go.
Benzema pulled a goal back in the 93rd minute — an open header from a corner.
We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.