The last time Real Madrid played against Valencia was in early January, where Zinedine Zidane deployed a whole five central midfielders — Luka Modric, Fede Valverde, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Isco — before torturing Albert Celades’s men with ball control and high pressing. Valencia were paralyzed — counter-pressed mercilessly and unwilling to adjust. Real Madrid won 3 - 1. It was never even close.
Zidane didn’t have Isco available today, but he did have Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema, who weren’t available that day in January. He slotted four central midfielders behind those two, with Fede Valverde playing mostly on the right wing in a role where he looked visibly frustrated not getting the ball when he made good runs in between Valencia’s lines. Real Madrid’s press, often led by Fede or Modric, was good early on, but the team left large gaps in transition. They didn’t, in the first half, have nearly the same foothold they did during the last matchup between these two teams.
Rodrigo hit the post on one break in the 14th, where a Ferran Torres turn unlocked space behind Casemiro, and Ramos and Varane were caught with their high line. (Ramos should have sprinted to track Rodrigo, but hedged off thinking he had another marker to pick up.) Valencia also scored on a marginal offside goal which was ruled out. Those two sequences were the two alarm bells that went off for Zidane’s men in the first 45 minutes.
But they also threatened little outside of that, and though they stayed compact on most defensive sequences, while providing good help defense any time Real Madrid had the ball on the wing with a chance to take players on, they also allowed space for anyone to have a shot from distance: Hazard, Kroos, Casemiro, Fede, Modric all had strikes on goal unchallenged. Hazard’s movement off the ball was dangerous throughout, and Ramos’s step-in interventions out of the back always gave Real Madrid a chance to enter the final third with numbers.
If the first half was fun and back-and-forth, Real Madrid dialled in and distanced themselves in the second half, where they had an uptick in offensive tempo. Ramos kickstarted the team’s opening goal, which was capped with beautiful movement / passing / finishing from Modric, Hazard, and Benzema:
Real Madrid lead through a beautiful team goal!— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) June 18, 2020
Modric, Hazard, and Benzema combine for a fantastic flowing move pic.twitter.com/Yow3069wdH
Valencia stayed defensively sound for large stretches of the first half, but ultimately Real Madrid’s unyielding movement had its perks. Eventually Valencia started to crack. Mangala was forced into Hazard’s gravitational pull on Benzema’s goal.
In the 74th minute, Marcos Asensio made his return to football for the first time since pre-season. He scored in the same minute he entered the field. The script doesn’t seem believable, and only becomes real when you see it:
(Mendy will forever get lost in that moment that will rightfully belong to Asensio, but appreciate his offensive guile!)
The third goal, started by a Casemiro robbery and capped by a Benzema golazo, was a great ending to the night:
Karim Benzema...WOW!— Premier Sports (@PremierSportsTV) June 18, 2020
Zidane's reaction! pic.twitter.com/LVALuZXZqx
This was fun. We’ll break this down in a lot more detail in the coming hours. Stay tuned for tonight’s post-game podcast.