Real Madrid fluffed a great opportunity to go two points clear at the summit of La Liga, as a late Karim Benzema goal – remarkably assisted by Thibaut Courtois – could only rescue a point in Valencia.
Real started on the front foot, although they looked a touch awkward and indecisive in the final third. They did see Rodrygo and the prolific Karim Benzema go close with headed efforts in the first half, while Federico Valverde and Toni Kroos forced solid low stops out of Jaume Costa with long-range efforts.
At the other end, Ferran Torres was looking lively for Valencia. He spun Raphael Varane and got a low effort on target, before sending a header wide following an error from Thibaut Courtois – with Varane’s substantial presence proving just enough to put him off on this occasion.
Torres vs Courtois was becoming the story of the match as we entered the second half, and the Belgian had to be on his toes to deny his adversary within seconds of the restart. He flew off his line to close the angle and send the ball wide, after Rodrigo had returned a one-two that split the Real defence apart and left Torres one on one.
As the game wore on, Valencia steadily grew into it, with Albert Celades narrowing his midfield four and stifling the supply line to Real’s wide men. Although this switch led to the game completely collapsing as a spectacle, it caught the visitors out and visibly wore them down – so when Carlos Soler arrived at the back post to convert Daniel Wass’ cross and open the scoring on 78 minutes, it was no major surprise.
really fantastic goal from Valencia. love the composure from Wass to pull the ball back for Soler.
— Muhammad Butt (@muhammadbutt) December 15, 2019
The hosts looked to have run the clock down with relentless effectiveness, and after Luka Jovic’s late goal was chopped off for offside, that looked to be it. There would be another twist, though, as after Toni Kroos’ 94th minute corner caused havoc, Courtois – who had come up in a desperate attempt to find an equaliser – touched the ball into the path of Benzema, who fired home to salvage a point.
Starting XI: Jaume (8); Costa (6), Garay (6), Paulista (7), Gaya (8); Wass (7), Coquelin (6), Parejo (6), Soler (7); Torres (8), Rodrigo (7)
Subs: Vallejo (6), Kondogbia (4)
Key Talking Point
Whisper in quietly, but Zinedine Zidane’s Real had been on the makings of a real run of form heading into this one. Having not lost since mid-October – ten games ago in all competitions – they were beginning to forget what a defeat felt like, even if their performances were rarely flawless.
With Barcelona having stumbled at Real Sociedad on Saturday, then, another win here would have been very welcome on a number of fronts – it would have put them two points clear at the top of the division, and kept their momentum ticking over heading into Wednesday’s momentous Clásico.
It was a big ask, however, against a Valencia side whose modest position in the league perhaps betrayed the difficulty of the task at hand. They were yet to lose at home in La Liga, and came in buzzing off a Champions League win in Amsterdam – a win that put them into the last 16 as winners of Group H.
It was a key fixture for Zidane’s men, then, although his team selection did hint at an eye on Wednesday’s crucial derby. Casemiro – previously an ever-present at the base of midfield, and a booking away from a domestic suspension – was left on the bench.
But although they were able to control midfield and possession for long spells early on, they began to look increasingly tired as the game wore on, and had no answer to the evolving tactical approach of the hosts.
In the end, it’s a point they will very much take in difficult circumstances. It keeps the unbeaten run going, but they will know they have to improve ten-fold for Wednesday after a dismal second half display.
Starting XI: Courtois (7); Carvajal (5), Varane (6), Ramos (7), Nacho (6); Kroos (6), Valverde (8), Modric (5); Rodrygo (5), Benzema (7), Isco (5)
Subs: Vinicius (6), Bale (6), Jovic (4)
In a game really lacking in any attacking quality, attention turned to an industrious battle in midfield, in which one player really stood out – 20-year-old midfielder Federico Valverde.
Federico Valverde is a proper midfielder man, such a shame we didnt get him early on in his career when he trained with the club. Would’ve been doing wonders in our midfield right now.
— Fly dem (@Jimmyconwayy19) December 15, 2019
The kid’s composure, passing, and vision is what makes him a starter under Zidane. Him and Ødegaard make the mid-field game look fun in La Liga.
— (@futbol_Heri) December 15, 2019
The Uruguayan so often led the press while simultaneously holding the midfield line, and did both jobs with remarkable effectiveness in what was a difficult evening for his side. He played with a composure and decisiveness that put his senior midfield contemporaries Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to shame, and looks for all the world as if he will be the future of Real’s midfield.
Valencia round out their 2019 fixture list on Saturday when they make the long trip north to take on Real Valladolid on Saturday
Los Blancos, meanwhile, have the small matter of their top of the league clash with Barcelona at Camp Nou on Wednesday, before returning to home soil to take on Athletic Bilbao.