The curse of Mestalla struck again as Real Madrid suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Los Che. Early goals from Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana set the home side up for victory and although Cristiano Ronaldo pulled one back in the “psychological” zone just before the half-time whistle, Valencia saw out a win that went some way to ensuring their safety while also dealing a blow to Real’s title charge.
This was a game in hand and Real still maintain a one-point advantage over Barcelona in the table. The next game, against Celta, could come as early as next week if the Galicians are knocked out of the Europa League by Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday. It’s a setback for Real’s designs, but far from terminal.
Zidane has consistently asked his side to show intensity right from kick-off this season but Real were caught cold on Wednesday night. Munir almost made it 3-0 as early as the 13th minute as Real flailed against Valencia’s attacking waves. The home side’s second goal was scored all too easily, with Real’s defence ball-watching and out of position. As Marcelo noted pitch-side after the game: “We conceded two stupid goals.”
Manager rating out of 10
4 — “We reacted too late,” lamented Zidane after the game. Benching Isco, who was the best player on the pitch against Espanyol last weekend, while fanning James’ flames in the Mestalla was counter-intuitive. Rotation is one thing; ignoring form is another. Gareth Bale was brought on in good time in attempt to turn the game but Isco should have been on from the start.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 5 — Navas could do little about Zaza’s belter but should have done better with Orellana’s strike, which went straight through him. A decent save from Dani Parejo’s free-kick embellished his performance and he read the Valencia captain’s intentions well with smart stop in the second half.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 — Carvajal did a “Johnny Cash” in Valencia, picking up a yellow for flattening Zaza on 29 minutes after a challenge that could well have warranted one a minute earlier. A rare mistake under pressure at the end of the first half summed up Madrid’s performance to that point but he scarcely lost the ball for the rest of the game.
DF Raphael Varane, 4 — Not one for Varane’s YouTube reel. An awful pass left Navas exposed after 16 minutes and he was lucky to escape a sending off with a high challenge in the second half. A woeful mistake left Zaza in a one-on-one with Navas that the keeper thankfully rectified.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 — An aerial masterclass at the back from the captain came too late to stem the early Valencia tide and on this occasion, he couldn’t drive the team to a late victory at the other end.
DF Marcelo, 6 — After recovering from a hefty Ezequiel Garay challenge, Marcelo stood up a beautiful cross for Ronaldo to make it 2-1 and was solid at the back when needed.
MF Luka Modric, 5 — Modric was overrun in midfield in another game that suggests he’s not firing on all cylinders. That he was more effective in the air than on the deck suggests that Zidane is doing him no favours within the current formation.
Casemiro, 6 — The Brazilian was cut out of the game as Valencia decided to bypass the midfield, but he nonetheless chipped in with a dynamic performance involving three tackles and a 93 percent pass success rate.
MF Toni Kroos, 5 — There are only so many games in which a key midfielder can get away with corners that hit the first man and free kicks that are easily headed clear. Kroos is golden against lesser opposition but when the chips are down, he lacks accuracy.
FWJames Rodriguez, 4 — It was easy to forget James was on the pitch. Put him in a Colombia shirt and it’s “oh my!” In a Real kit, it’s just… “oh.” James has a long way to go before next summer.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 — Benzema was lively, a burst after 14 minutes for Ronaldo proving his fitness and a shot after 20 that stung Diego Alves’ gloves showed his marksmanship. He’s still the top dog up front for now.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 — A cross-shot on 14, a cheeky back-heel attempt on 38, an excellent headed goal on 43, no tiresome “siii” celebration. Ronaldo even picked the ball out of the net and carried it to the halfway line.