Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia
When a football match kicks off at 10pm local time, it is rather unusual – not that you will hear Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane complain.
What he will be well aware of, however, is that the pressure on Los Blancos will increase as long as Barcelona play before his team and keep on winning
This was the second time in less than a week that Madrid are playing 24 hours or so after the Catalans had enjoyed victory to increase their lead atop the La Liga table.
The added challenge of playing a team with something to play for – a European spot and a possible return to the Champions League next season – only added to the intensity.
As I said in the build-up to this clash, Real didn’t need to worry about performance: just make sure they won the game.
Highlights of the game
Eyes turned to the team sheets as both managers embraced at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium (is that allowed under current guidelines?!) – Zidane and Albert Celades are former Real team-mates.
The home side’s loss of Isco with a muscle injury was somewhat offset by the news that Dani Carvajal had passed a fitness test. Meanwhile for the visitors, Geoffrey Kondogbia has returned from suspension.
In a first half full of end-to-end La Liga highlights, it was Valencia’s Jasper Cillessen who was the busier goalkeeper — yet, many felt his side should have been ahead at the break.
That’s because either side of diverting an Eden Hazard shot away from goal, booting clear a Carvajal effort after he wriggled through and gathering another shot from the Belgian, the first half was all about VAR.
Real had already been warned when Rodrigo – once a loanee at Bolton Wanderers in their Premier League days – fired a shot which Thibaut Courtois superbly diverted onto the post, just moments before he thought he had broken the deadlock.
He stroked the ball home from close range after a sublime reverse pass from Carlos Soler caught out the home rearguard only for referee Jose María Sanchez Martinez to rule out the goal for offside.
That Uruguayan Maxi Gomez was fractionally offside is correct; whether or not he interfered with play, especially as he didn’t touch the ball, was debatable but the goal was disallowed.
The decision infuriated Valencia as Jose Luis Gaya was shown a yellow card for his protests.
Dutch goalkeeper Cillessen was the busier, although Courtois had to smartly push the ball away to keep out a long-range Kondogbia shot on the stroke of half-time.
Valencia would certainly have felt aggrieved at the decision and, perhaps with revenge on their minds after being brushed aside 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals in January, continued to frustrate the hosts.
There seems to be more of a togetherness about Real this season than they had at the same stage last term. And, on the hour, the deadlock was finally broken.
Hazard provided the assist and Karim Benzema did the rest, unmarked and coolly side-footing the ball into the bottom corner.
Cillessen then had to push a Luka Modric flier to safety as Madrid tried to add a game-clinching second.
They did claim it eventually, and it was quite a story, as Marco Asensio – initially ruled out for the season before Covid-19 halted the campaign – netted with his first touch of 2019/20.
Just seconds after replacing Federico Valverde, he expertly volleyed in a left-footed shot from a Ferland Mendy corner to make the game safe.
What would the La Liga betting odds on that have been, I wonder!
On the night both clubs honoured the legacy of Alfredo Di Stefano in the ground named after him – Di Stefano was not only a Real great but coached Valencia to the La Liga title (1971) and Cup Winners’ Cup glory (1980) – it was a moment fitting to seal the contest.
There was still more to come though as Asensio set up Benzema for his second and a simply stunning finish. Make sure you watch it!
Game, set, match Real – Valencia’s frustration was compounded by the dismissal of substitute Lee Kang-In moments later and just 12 minutes after entering the fray as he kicked out more than once at Sergio Ramos.
We’ve got a La Liga title race on our hands SBOBET fans!
Benzema is now the fifth-highest of Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorers, one ahead of the legendary Ferenc Puskas (242 goals).
Real have kept a league-high 13 clean sheets this season – already one more than they managed in the whole of 2018/19.
Valencia manager Celades scored one goal in 56 La Liga appearances for Real Madrid between 2000 and 2005.
Real travel to a European-chasing Real Sociedad team on Sunday night (June 21) who are reeling from a surprise defeat to Alaves, this just a few hours after Valencia host Osasuna.
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