The lineup is mostly the same as previous La Liga lineups with the biggest changes being Coquelin in defense to cover for our suspensions, as well as Gaya being pushed up to the left midfield and Lato covering left-back.
The game started quite even. Both sides were going for it and both defenses had a moment of panic at the first few minutes in which half-chances were made. A few minutes into the game, a Valencia counter ended with Rodrigo who went for a shot from outside the left-side of the box, despite an incoming run from Gaya who was wide open. A bit selfish considering he's never scored from there. At around 16 minutes in, Real Madrid played their own counter led by Marcelo, Ronaldo and Benzema. A bit of interplay found Ronaldo in some space in the box, Montoya cut in front of him and reached for the ball with his leg but didn't get it. Ronaldo dropped to the ground, the referee calls for a penalty and Ronaldo easily converts. This was a fifty-fifty for me and against the big 2, they often go against us. I'm sure many of you have seen this sort of challenge not given as a penalty. Was it a reckless challenge from Montoya's part? Yes. Did Ronaldo make the most of it? Yes.
At one goal down, the game proceeded in a similar fashion with our best chance coming after Kondogbia dribbles past 2 players and fires from the edge of the box but was denied by Navas. Edging closer to the end of the half, a Madrid attack builds up and a ball is crossed towards Benzema from the right. Montoya jumps to contest the ball but Benzema opts to stay on the ground, backs into Montoya looking for contact. He drops to ground very easily and the referee calls a penalty again which Ronaldo converts again. This was in no way a penalty in my opinion. Montoya had every right to jump for that ball and contest it. He didn't push or use his hands, Benzema backed into him, it was a clear dive.
On the other end, Parejo gets tripped up in the penalty spot with clear contact that was nowhere near the ball and the referee sees it but says to play on. Last minute of the first half, Guedes fires from the edge of the box and Navas parries for a corner. The referee end the half and doesn't let us take the corner. Again, the issue here is the inconsistency. Some teams get several minutes beyond the half to keep taking corner after corner and we can't even get one. Two goals down at half-time with a lot of decision going against us, in a half that was quite even otherwise is a big confidence knock. Guedes suffered from some uncomfort and Soler was brought on to replace him in his first game back from injury.
In the end of the first half and then into the second half, a lot of silliness happened. Madrid players, aware that decision were going their way and that Valencia players were frustrated, starting going down at every little touch. This is to be expected. This is an often overlooked effect of one-sided decisions, players take advantage of it. This is especially true if the antics go unpunished as was the case. A few minutes in and Ronaldo fell in the box again and was told to get up quite rightly by the referee but wrongly escaped booking for a clear dive.
Valencia would pull one back nearing the 60th minute from a corner. Parejo found Mina who was amidst a cluster of Madrid players but soared above them to head it past Navas on his right. This was when Valencia roared back into the game as the crowd found their voice again and cheered the team on. There was attack after attack and Madrid would keep getting dispossessed to start a new attack. Marcelino brought on Zaza for Rodrigo and Perreira for Lato (Gaya returned to left-back) as he senses the possibility of another goal.
This was not to be the case and the team drifted off. Passes started getting misplaced and the ball was lost too easily. Crosses were aimless and shots. We had one really good chance from Rodrigo who was found in the center by Mina with a gaping net as Navas was out of position. But the shot was difficult for him and he sent the ball over the bar.
In the final ten minutes we would be caught off guard twice. The first an attempt that exploited the right side of our defense. A run by Marcelo with a quick one two found him in space and he slotted it past Neto. Very questionable keeping. Beaten at the near side through his legs. The second was 5 minutes later, another one two this time from the center which finished with an effort from Kroos from the edge of the box, beating Neto again.
0-1 Ronaldo (16', pen.)
0-2 Ronaldo (38', pen.)
1-2 Santi Mina (58')
1-3 Marcelo (84')
1-4 Kroos (89')
Neto 2 - Is it just me or his keeping looking really shaky compared the beginning of the season. Stays frozen most of the time or doesn't commit fully to a leap. Beaten at the near side is another con.
Montoya 1 - We are really in need of a functioning right back. Despite the referee's harsh decisions, his decision-making wasn't too great either. Every time an attack comes from his side, he looks shaky and we look vulnerable to concede.
Coquelin 3.5 - For a make-shift center-back he did just as much as could be expected from him. He only really looked vulnerable in the last 10 minutes for the third and fourth goals.
Garay 4 - took a knock to head early on but fought through and like his partner only looked vulnerable for the last two goals.
Lato 3.5 - at times he looks solid and at others he gets overwhelmed and seems lost.
Kondogbia 5- good game, commanded the midfield alongside Parejo and caused problems with his dribbling and shots.
Parejo 4.5 - decent game but his passing which should be his specialty is really lacking at times, loses possession at crucial moments.
Guedes 4.5 - got shut down pretty well and didn't get much of a chance to shine save for a shot on goal at the end of the first half, went off due to injury afterwards.
Gaya 4.5 - decent going forward and tracking back but was a bit wasteful with his crossing at times.
Rodrigo 2 - selfishness doesn't go well and it's becoming a habit. Opted to shoot from long-range where he's hardly scored before despite an open players available. Also should've done better with an open goal from Mina's cross.
Santi Mina 5.5 - gave us a way back in this game and almost to a tie but Rodrigo couldn't finish
Soler N/A - needs more time, still miles away from his best but maybe this wasn't the best game to reintroduce him.
Zaza 5 - caused a decent amount of trouble in the time he was on, always fights for every ball and tries to pressure the opposition
Pereira 3.5 - hardly made an impact
A combination of one-sided refereeing for the majority of the game and really bad play in the final minutes of the game resulted in a misleading scoreline. All the cushion points we had have now run out. Real Madrid are now two points away from us with a game to spare. Effectively we could be in 4th place and 3 points ahead of 5th (where Villareal are currently sitting as I type this as they are leading Real Sociedad). Some of these players could be tired from the extra time during the midweek Copa del Rey game, but the tight schedule is about to continue. In the next two weeks, we face Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and then Barcelona again. It's a gruesome schedule and that's an understatement at that.
A lot of our players are falling to injury and suspension, so our squad is being stretched. Hopefully we can get Murillo back soon and he quickly finds his way into the team as that will be a huge boost. Our woes in the league have begun right about when he got injured. The partnership with Garay is our best defensive lineup and allows everyone else to commit forward in peace. I don't know if the last 4 days of the market will bring a right-back for us, but we need one.
As for the refereeing, we just need more consistency in decisions and, a bit more protection and good decision-making (from our end too), as we really can't afford more injuries and suspensions.
Next game is on Thursday, away to Barcelona for the Copa del Rey semi-finals. We need the game to go way differently that what we've seen today. The first leg result could make it our break it for us.
As usual, let us know your thoughts about the game. Is the scoreline a fair indication of the game? Do you agree with the players that the refereeing is against us since the Barcelona game? Who impressed? Who disappointed? All comments and opinions are welcome and appreciated.