Valencia 1 – 4 Real Madrid – Madrid’s big La Liga win as it happened

VALENCIA, SPAIN - JANUARY 27: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates 0-2 with Nacho of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander match between Valencia v Real Madrid at the Estadio de Mestalla on January 27, 2018 in Valencia Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images)
VALENCIA, SPAIN - JANUARY 27: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid celebrates 0-2 with Nacho of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander match between Valencia v Real Madrid at the Estadio de Mestalla on January 27, 2018 in Valencia Spain (Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid fought off a fierce second half comeback attempt by Valencia to earn all three points in a crucial La Liga fixture. Here’s how it happened.

First Half

Real Madrid set out in a clear 4-3-3, with Modric, Kroos, and Casemiro in the midfield, Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo up top. It wasn’t quite the barnstorming performance we saw with the trident attack against Deportivo, but Madrid still managed to play well in the first half.

Valencia’s strategy relies on defensive compactness and breaking quickly on the counter. Real Madrid did well to contain Valencia on the break. Luka Modric in particular looked in imperious form in the center of the park, breaking up Valencia’s counter-attacks before they could advance into Madrid’s half. I counted three interceptions alone from the magic Croatian, who was often required to deputize for Casemiro who looked a bit out of sorts.

This is a really welcome change from Madrid, whose midfield has looked way too permeable this season. Valencia were going to be a big test, not just because of their spot in the La Liga table, but because their counter-attacking style posed a unique threat to a Real Madrid side who are terrible defending in transition. The first half was a welcome break from these problems.

Not only were Real Madrid great at defending the counter, they were also excellent at countering themselves. Madrid’s first goal came as Ronaldo broke free in the center of the park. He dished out to Marcelo on the left, who cut inside and found Benzema free with tons of space on the right. Benzema passed forward to Ronaldo in the center, and Ronaldo was bowled over in the box. The Dark Invader stepped up to the spot and buried the penalty, opening the scoring for Madrid in the sixteenth minute.

The rest of the half saw Valencia push forward dangerously. Madrid mostly did well to combat the counter. But Valencia definitely had their fair share of dangerous moments. Keylor Navas did well to stop a few shots from distance. Valencia also got a bit unlucky with their shooting in the box. Madrid mostly contained Valencia’s chances, but had Valencia been more clinical with their finishing, they certainly had enough opportunities to cause Madrid problems.

Madrid’s second goal came around the 37th minute. Benzema got bowled over by Montoya in the box while attempting to receive a cross. This penalty was less clear-cut than the first, but it’s still pretty clear that Montoya clattered into Benzema’s back. Ronaldo took the penalty, and once again slotted the ball into the back of the net. Madrid found themselves in a comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the second half.

Second Half

In what is now becoming a trend, Real Madrid began the second half looking much weaker than the first. The counters that were getting stuffed out in the first began cutting through, and Valencia began growing into the match, with Madrid looking unable to stop their growing momentum.

Eventually the pressure told, as Valencia managed to pull one back around the 58th minute. Dani Parejo sent a corner in, and Madrid were utterly chaotic in the box. Santi Mina got his head to the ball and pushed it past Keylor Navas who had very little help from his teammates.

Valencia smelled blood, and immediately began pouring on the pressure to try to get level. Marcelino’s men began breaking forward and pinning Madrid back. Madrid looked completely unable to string anything together offensively, and incapable of stopping Valencia from cutting through the midfield. Navas was forced into a few great saves, paying Zidane back for the faith he has show in him over the course of the season.

Around the 70th minute, Madrid began to take a bit of control back into the match, although still couldn’t entirely stop Valencia from breaking forward. Madrid started to do a bit better with controlling possession and slowing down the speed of play to prevent Valencia from accessing their blistering counter attacks.

Zidane put Lucas Vazquez on for Bale, and then about ten minutes later, Asensio on for Benzema, in an attempt to see out the rest of the game. After the extended period under siege from Valencia, Real Madrid finally began regaining control of the match. Madrid started to control possession again, and slowed down the tempo in order to stifle Valencia’s pressure.

Marcelo and Asensio began forming a partnership on the left hand side as Ronaldo shifted into the center. Around the 85th minute, Marcelo and Asensio connected with a great bit of one-two passing, Marcelo dribbled into the box, and blasted a shot through Neto’s legs for Madrid’s third goal.

With that, Valencia’s balloon was completely deflated. After a fierce fight for the comeback in the early minutes of the second half, Valencia now found themselves two goals down with just minutes left to play in the match. Madrid sensed Valencia’s hopelessness, and pounced on their next opportunity. Madrid’s fourth goal came from an absolutely beautiful bit of team play from Real Madrid: Marcelo dribbled in from the left, cut in to Toni Kroos who passed to Kovacic (who had just been subbed on for Modric), Kovacic put a backheel immediately back to Kroos who blasted one of his signature low-fast-hard shots into the bottom right. That made it Valencia 1 – 4 Real Madrid, which is how the match would finish.

Final Thoughts

Real Madrid definitely didn’t have things all their own way. The way Madrid began the second half is particularly worrying. If Valencia had a bit more luck, they could have punished Real Madrid for their errors.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of positives to take from this match for Real Madrid. Defeating Valencia goes a long way to helping Madrid secure Champions League football next season. And given the strength of this Marcelino Valencia team on the counter, Madrid’s ability to maintain, and then regain control over the match should be lauded.

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Finally, Real madrid’s ability to see out this match until the last minutes was something we have not seen much of from Madrid this season. Madrid have looked absolutely poor in the closing stages of the match for much of the season. Not so against Valencia, as Madrid took the bull by the horns in the the last ten minutes and ensured that they kept all three points with a decisive victory. Let’s hope Madrid can build on this momentum moving forward.

Stay tuned to The Real Champs for more post-match coverage of Valencia vs Real Madrid.