Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Valencia 2-1 Real Madrid

I honestly wondered if I'd survive to write this. My nerves are shattered after that second half. It's an absolutely crucial win for Valencia which continues our resurgence and puts significant distance between us and the relegation zone.

It looked ominous from the start. Any hopes that Real would do a bit of rotation, with tough games against Villarreal and Napoli in the coming week, were soon disappointed. Zidane named the strongest possible team. Voro, though, went about it as business as usual. Naming a largely unchanged side, with Cancelo replacing the injured Montoya and the fit again Gaya slotting in for Siquiera.

After a bit of early possession for Madrid, Valencia basically sealed the game in the first 8 minutes, and they were lovely goals too, both the type of counter-attacking ones that we used to specialise in. Cancelo sent Munir away and a perfect cross found Zaza. It looked like there was no danger, but he swivelled and scored a real "golazo", beating the helpless Navas. Four minutes later, we were away again. With Valencia breaking, Zaza put a decent pass to Nani in space. Zaza made a great run to draw the defender away and create space for the advancing Munir and Orellana and it was the latter who made no mistake.

Madrid were stunned and it was almost 3-0 in the 13th minute, with a shot from Munir blocked. Madrid began to come back into, and Alves was forced into a couple of saves, including a great one from Benzema. With backs to the wall and Madrid mostly controlling the game, Zaza was getting limited service and got booked after a bit of over-agressiveness, his only blot in a decent game.

For all their possession, Madrid were struggling to break down a really well-organised Valencia defence, who were repelling everything RM threw at them. Valencia had another break in the 40th minute, with Nani cutting down the wing well and playing it back for Parejo, who fired over. This move proved costly, however, as Nani went off injured. His 6 assists in La Liga this season have only been bettered by Kroos, Luis Suarez, Piatti and Neymar.

Just as it looked that we were going in at halftime with a comfortable lead, Madrid halved the deficit. Cancelo should have done more to cut out the cross and Mangala, who had been winning most of the aerial duels up to then, lost his man. Unfortunately, this was one of the best headers in world football, CR7, who planted an unstoppable header past Alves.

The second half was an uncomfortable one to be a Valencia fan, as Madrid bombarded the Valencia defence. VCF in contrast, only had a couple of half chances for Parejo and Zaza, but, with most of the Valencia team forceably camped in their own half, lack of options meant the chances came to nothing.

No game against Madrid would be complete without dicey and questionable refereeing. In fairness, Penaldo should have had a penalty when Mangala brought him down, but any injustice towards Madrid was more than outdone at the other end. First, Zaza was barged off the ball by Carvajal, which the ref deemed a shoulder challenge but gets given as a penalty half the time. The second was absolutely blatant, with Munir brought down by Ramos inside the area. It was also a mystery how Bale managed to escape at least a yellow, hacking down Cancelo in a petty revenge move. Madrid also showed their lack of class, playing on even when Valencia had Zaza and later Parejo down injured. That was the only negative for Valencia this game, with Nani and Zaza going off with injury concerns. Orellana was also substituted, though it's unclear if that was for tactical reasons or because he'd picked up a knock.

Madrid had an insane 72% of possession and were pinging the ball from wing to wing desperately trying to find a way through, but were mostly stifled by a resilient VCF defence. The closest RM came was a Bale header and a scramble inside the box, with Bale and Ramos trying and failing to poke the equaliser in. Navas even came up for a corner at the end, but Valencia managed to avoid their conceding-late-goals hoodoo and held on for a vital and morale boosting win.

It's hard to believe that 2 months ago, it was all doom and gloom, with Prandelli's rant about suffering for the shirt and the team only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. In 2017, only the top four have got more points than us and we have wins over Bilbao, Madrid and Villarreal under our belts. European qualification looks a jump too far, but there's no way we shouldn't go on to push for top ten. Now to player ratings, and you'll forgive me if these are a bit "samey" but it's hard to differentiate these guys after such a great showing.

Alves 9 - made some crucial saves. I criticised his distribution before but he was involved in starting off the first goal.
Gaya 8 - mostly handled the Real Madrid attacks.
Garay 8.5 - solid and reliable defensive performance, stopped almost everything that came his way.
Mangala 8 - at fault for the goal, but a great aerial presence and also blocked a near certain goal.
Cancelo 7 - involved in the first goal, but weakest one of the defence and should have closed down better for the goal. Overall, not a bad performance, though.
Enzo 8.5 - really great stuff. As ever, marred by a bit of aggression, but contained the Madrid attacks well.
Parejo 8 - solid performance, containing Madrid attacks, which were forced out on to the channels. Also nearly scored from one of his trademark free kicks.
Nani 7.5 - excellent pass to set up the goal. Hope the injury is nothing serious.
Orellana 9 - just like Cheryshev last season, has made a big difference to the team. Luckily, he'll be around a bit longer.
Munir 8.5 - having a good run of games and a super cross for the first goal.
Zaza 8.5 - super first half, brilliant goal and excellent run to create the space for the second. A quieter second half, due to VCF being pinned back. If he plays the next three games like this, we're in for a tricky decision.

Siquiera 7 - was under pressure, but mostly did his job.
Soler 7 - decent job in stopping Madrid attacks through the centre.
Mario N/A - job done. Nothing to complain about.