Jese’s second half goal keeps Real Madrid within five points of Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
Carlo Ancelotti made three changes to the side that drew Osasuna last weekend. Angel Di Maria, Nacho, and Alvaro Arbeloa were in the starting lineup, as Gareth Bale and Pepe were unavailable.
Caretaker manager Nico Estevez made several changes to Valencia’s 4-2-3-1. Jonas led the line ahead of Fede, Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli, while Oriol Romeu and Daniel Parejo were in the double-pivot.
This was a disappointing match that surprisingly produced several goals – Madrid dominated possession, and although Valencia’s shape nullified their threat, attacking quality prevailed.
One of the key components towards Valencia’s impressive display was their shape without the ball. Estevez’s side dropped into two compact banks of four and minimized space between the lines.
Madrid struggled to find space in central areas around the final third, and this led to their front four constantly interchanging positions. As per usual, Ronaldo roamed around the final third looking for openings, but Isco and Benzema dropped deep into midfield to receive the ball. Isco desperately drifted from flank to flank aiming to create overloads and link play with the wide players, but the Spaniard’s impact was minimal.
Another key feat in Valencia’s shape was Feghouli’s role – the Algerian midfielder admirably tracked Marcelo’s runs and nullified his attacking threat down the left flank. Valencia’s narrow shape was impressive – it limited Madrid’s threat from open play and Ancelotti’s men struggled to created legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.
Although Madrid dictated the tempo of the match, the away side rarely penetrated in the final third nor did they test Vicente Guaita. At this point it wasn’t a matter of how they would score, many were questioning whether they would find the back of the net.
It took a moment of brilliance from Angel Di Maria to give the away side the lead. Di Maria received Marcelo’s cross-field pass, and drifted between Piatti and Juan Bernat, before striking a venomous shot into the far corner.
Prior to the goal, Madrid lacked direction, invention and creativity in the final third, and unfortunately for the away side, their lead was short lived.
While Cristiano Ronaldo found it difficult to express himself in the final third, Madrid’s midfield duo flourished. In fairness, Valencia’s shape contributed to their dominance as they half-heartedly attempted to close down the duo.
Alonso often dropped deep between the two centre backs to receive the ball and launch Madrid’s attacks, but Valencia’s midfield rarely pressed the Spaniard in central areas. On the other hand, Modric was marked tightly, but the Croatian evaded defenders and played positive passes into advanced positions – there was no surprise that the Madrid duo were the most reliable passers on the field.
Likewise, they replicated their brilliance without the ball – Alonso made key tackles in his third, while Modric intercepted the most passes. On both ends they were magnificent – they controlled the tempo of the match, and facilitated passes into key areas, as they were Madrid’s main attacking outlets.
Valencia down the left
Although Estevez’s side spent large portions of the match defending in their own zone, they still managed to pose a threat on the left flank. On numerous occasions, Valencia’s left sided players isolated Arbeloa, and both goals were created down this flank.
The first goal highlighted Piatti and Bernat’s tactical understanding – Piatti drifted infield between the two centre backs and Bernat pushed forward, got half a yard of space ahead of Di Maria, and delivered a well-weighed ball into the box that Piatti nodded past Diego Lopez. As the match continued, Di Maria’s diligence to track Bernat’s runs decreased, and the Valencia fullback casually pushed forward.
But, the main issue Madrid encountered was the lack of protection provided for Arbeloa, as Piatti constantly attacked the Spaniard. And it was Piatti’s powerful run down the left flank that earned Valencia a corner, which subsequently led to Mathieu’s equalizer.
Majority of Valencia’s attack prior to Sergio Canales’ arrival was down the left flank. Arbeloa was left vulnerable on several occasions and it was peculiar to see Ancelotti overlook this feat.
Estevez made the first alteration of the match with 30 minutes remaining, opting to introduce Canales for the uninspiring Fede. Coincidentally, Valencia equalized seconds after his introduction, which gave the home side the incentive to push for a winner.
Unlike Fede, Canales became a threat in the final third. He drifted into space between the lines to receive the ball, and he successfully mounted Valencia’s attacks on the break. On separate occasions Canales was involved in the two legitimate goal-scoring opportunities that the home side created. Lopez comfortably saved his tame effort in the 73rd minute, and two minutes later his back heel to Piatti led to a cross towards Jonas, who fired his shot inches wide of the goal.
Canales’ introduction instilled an element of creativity the home side lacked in the first half, and they progressively created better chances.
The match was slipping away from Madrid, and Ancelotti gambled by introducing Jese and Daniel Carvajal – the double-change pushed Ronaldo upfront, and Di Maria to the left, as Madrid became a 4-4-2. The away side still lacked a competent link between midfield and attack, but these two men were involved in the build up to Jese’s winner.
Unlike Arbeloa – who didn’t venture forward – Carvajal’s first involvement in the match was an overlapping run down the right, which led to a dangerous cross in the six-yard box. However, Valencia failed to clear their lines and Modric recovered the ball, played a pass out wide to Jese and his weak shot at the near post beat Guaita, to hand the away side the lead.
Ancelotti summoned Asier Illarramendi in the latter stages of the match, as Madrid sat deeper and launched quick counter-attacks. Ancelotti’s change didn’t increase Madrid’s attacking impetus in the final third, but it did create one opportunity, which Jese pounced on.
Valencia contained Madrid for large portions of the match, but was unable to trouble the away side when they pushed into the final third. Their dominance down the left flank was logical – although Di Maria is usually a tactically disciplined player – however they took advantage of Madrid’s poor set piece defending, but only threatened from open play when Canales was introduced.
Madrid displayed an unappealing performance, but they found a way to secure maximum points.
Their front four failed to penetrate in the final third, but an officiating error and poor goalkeeping handed Ancelotti’s men the lead twice. The away side keeps pace with the league leaders heading into 2014, but they’ll need to improve their all-around game if they intend on staying the course.