Real Madrid 2-0 Valencia: Real step it up after Albelda red card
Two Cristiano Ronaldo goals gave Real an important three points at the Bernabeu.
Jose Mourinho changed to a 4-3-3 system for this game, with Karim Benzema replaced with Lassana Diarra and Cristiano Ronaldo used as the lone forward. Ricardo Carvalho and Sergio Ramos were replaced by Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa at the back.
Despite reports he would name a 3-4-3, Unai Emery went with the 4-2-3-1 shape he’s used throughout the majority of this campaign. Hedwiges Maduro was used as a holding midfielder alongside David Albelda, whilst Marius Stankevicius was in at the back.
The game started slowly, as if neither side really wanted to take control of the game, and instead wanted the other to push forward and leave space in behind.
Alonso closed down
It was notable that Mourinho used Xabi Alonso as the deepest of the three central midfielders, looking to spray passes out to the flanks. Diarra instead played a left-of-centre role he didn’t look particularly comfortable in. The aim was clearly to get Alonso into space to create, but it didn’t work well, as Tino Costa was generally close enough to put pressure on him and make sure he didn’t have room to play ambitious forward passes. Real struggled for creativity early on.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t stay upfront, he moved into deeper positions and drifted wide to pick up the ball before running with it at pace. He often strayed out to the left, where Real didn’t have a player stationed permanently – Mesut Ozil kept his usual leftish central attacking midfield role, whilst Angel di Maria was out on the right, higher up the pitch than normal.
Real lack attackers
For much of the first half, Real looked exactly what they were – a 4-2-3-1 side converted to a 4-3-3 by simply removing the main striker and introducing a holding midfielder. They looked short of numbers when they attacked and Valencia were generally well-stocked to deal with the threat of Real’s attacking trio. Maduro moved deep in front of the back four and denied Real space between the lines, meaning Valencia had 5 v 3 when Real launched mini-counter-attacks.
As if to prove the point that Real were lacking one extra attacking player, their best chance of the first half came on the only occasion Sami Khedira made a dangerous, direct run down the centre of the pitch. Shocked by the new attacking threat, Valencia’s defence parted and Khedira missed a one-on-one.
Valencia were attempting to play on the counter but weren’t threatening. Their main threat was Juan Mata, who drifted in from his left-sided role, but he did so into a packed midfield zone.
Mourinho only stuck with the 4-3-3 for eight minutes of the second half before reverting to 4-2-3-1. Khedira made way and Benzema was introduced, and Real immediately looked better, simply because they were attacking with one extra player.
Still, the red card to Albelda for a handball (his second yellow when already on a booking) was very important. Valencia were forced into a 4-4-1 shape that invited constant pressure, and it seemed only a matter of time before Real broke through.
Right-back Bruno was caught in possession on the halfway line – a fatal error, considering Ronaldo had moved to the left after Benzema’s introduction. Real broke quickly, Ozil played the ball to Ronaldo who motored into the space, before smashing the ball into the net.
Soldado had a chance to equalise soon after, but Real shut up shop by bringing on Esteban Granero and Mahamadou Diarra for Ozil and Di Maria which closed the game out. Ronaldo’s excellent solo effort wrapped up the win.
Perhaps Real’s struggle with 4-3-3 hints at why Mourinho was reluctant to use it against Barcelona? The system seemed rather disorganised and Real struggled to create chances early on, with the midfield three too conservative for a game where they were dominating possession. The change to 4-2-3-1 made them more dangerous.
Valencia were disappointing – their strategy was to counter-attack but they rarely did so with any real purpose. Constant chopping and changing means the side lacks understanding and cohesion when attacking, although they defended well until they went down to ten men.Real Madrid 2-0 Valencia: Real step it up after Albelda red card