Real Madrid 0-0 Valencia: lots of chances, no goals
Real Madrid dropped points at home despite dominating.
Jose Mourinho gave a rare start to Raul Albiol against his former club, and played Karim Benzema on the right wing, with Angel Di Maria on the bench.
Unai Emery was without Roberto Soldado, and made five changes to the side that drew with Levante last week. The centre-back duo of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami, who have been excellent this season, was the only part of the side that remained in place.
This match really should have had goals, with both sides missing big chances.
Both sides played a 4-2-3-1 formation, and the battles across the pitch were obvious. Real played a very fluid shape in the final third, with Mesut Ozil typically drifting to the flanks and allowing the wide players inside, exploiting the space left when Mehmet Topal followed Ozil. Cristiano Ronaldo played more centrally than usual, coming inside into ‘number ten’ positions, and he had two early efforts from range that went close. On the other flank, Benzema didn’t look happy when getting the ball in wide positions – he doesn’t have the technical skill to beat Jordi Alba. His best contribution was when he came inside into a centre-forward position, Ozil found him, and Benzema backheeled to Ronaldo for a good chance.
The battle between Ricardo Costa and Ronaldo was interesting. Costa was happy to follow Ronaldo into central positions, which meant Feghouli had to become a wing-back and track Marcelo. Going the other way. Ronaldo didn’t track back much into his own third, which meant Costa got a couple of opportunities to prompt attacks – when he was brave enough to get in advance of Ronaldo.
Valencia had plenty of chances here, particularly on the break. Real’s front four generally pressed high up when they lost the ball, but their pressing wasn’t always integrated and Valencia were able to break through one ‘line’ at a time when working the ball towards goal. There were two different situations here. Sometimes, the front four would press, but then Alonso and Khedira would stay deeper, and one of the Valencia central midfielders would get time on the ball to play a good pass. Alternatively, if Alonso and Khedira did move forward, they would often leave Tino Costa free between the lines, and neither Pepe nor Albiol wanted to step forward and deal with him.
This was combined with intelligent breaking down the flanks. Costa got forward a little, but down the left was where Valencia really did well. Both Alba and Pablo Piatti broke past their men quickly as soon as Valencia won the ball. With these players in space, plus a bit of time to consider their passes in the centre, Emery’s side manufactured a good number of chances.
Another issue here was the tempo. Valencia were content to slow the game down at set-pieces (though with the ball they broke quickly), and Real struggled to move up through the gears. There was rarely continual spells of heavy pressure from the home side.
Mourinho made the obvious decision to bring on Angel di Maria on down the right. Higuain departed, and Benzema went upfront. Within thirty seconds the Argentine had made more successful dribbles than Benzema had in the first half, and he teed up Ronaldo for another good chance. Granted, this was after coming inside rather than staying wide, but it was the kind of classic wing play Benzema can’t provide.
Ozil was probably the key player for Real in terms of creating chances and prompting movement, but Valencia continued to hold out, tracking runners in midfield and defending wito two banks of four. Emery took off his wide players on 62 minutes to give more energy to the side, with Pablo Hernandez and Jeremy Mathieu on. They played the same roles as the men they replaced, with Mathieu staying wide (he seems to cause the big two problems, and he had a good chance here by getting in behind Alvaro Arbeloa) and Pablo trying to drift inside into space between the lines.
Further back, Topal started to play deeper, and sometimes seemed to drop in as right-sided centre-back when the ball was wide. He also helped Ricardo Costa with Ronaldo.
Jose Mourinho went for Kaka on 70 minutes. The Brazilian came on for Khedira, with Alonso now the sole holder and an attacking band of four supporting Benzema upfront. Ozil played a little deeper and was now helping Alonso play the initial pass into the final third. Real continued to play with great fluidity, but still ended up with too many players in a central zone, and they looked better when di Maria stayed wider, where he played a couple of crosses with the outside of his left foot.
Emery didn’t really respond to the added threat from Kaka. Daniel Parejo probably sat deeper, especially with Topal dropping in, but Tino Costa’s main job was still on Alonso, rather than dropping in as a third holder. Valencia continued to be a threat on the break, mainly with straight passes, and especially by getting in behind Arbeloa, who seemed slow on the turn and got little help from ahead against Alba and Mathieu, who switched position at will.
Jose Callejon replaced Ozil in the final ten minutes, and Real had more structure to the side, with Callejon out wide on the right and Di Maria on the left. They stretched the play, and now Valencia came under real pressure, though the crosses from wide were often poor, and Valencia’s last-ditch defending was admirable.
This is an odd Valencia performance to analyse – although the scoreline finished 0-0, and Valencia were decent value for their point, the scoreline doesn’t reflect what Valencia did well, because the game could have finished 3-3 or 4-4.
They didn’t defend particularly well, and were probably relieved that Real were so narrow for so long. Their real skill was being able to break through Real, by playing in the spaces between the lines, and later getting in behind Arbeloa.
Real’s play, unusually for a Mourinho side, lacked structure. They also found it difficult to keep the tempo high, or put Valencia under sustained spells of pressure. The first change worked well, with Di Maria on to provide dribbles, but the second made things too congested with Ozil and Kaka in the same space, and it required the third change to bring some structure to the side – you can’t have five attackers wandering wherever they please.