Valencia 0-5 Real Madrid: ruthless counter-attacking puts Real five up by half-time

January 22, 2013

The starting line-ups

Real Madrid produced one of their finest performances under Jose Mourinho.

Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde was without David Albelda and Joao Pereira, so Fernando Gago played a very deep midfield role, and Ricardo Costa was forced to move to right-back.

Jose Mourinho named Fabio Coentrao rather than Marcelo at left-back alongside an unfamiliar centre-back combination, and selected Gonzalo Higuain upfront, possibly because of his excellent record against Valencia.

Real utterly dominated the first half – they pressed well without the ball, and countered at incredible speed to produce a constant stream of goalscoring chances.

Real press

Valencia’s midfield three was more ’squashed’ than usual, with Ever Banega the highest player, but frequently coming short to help battle in the centre of the pitch, rather than staying high up between the lines. Although Valencia seemed like 4-2-3-1 without the ball, Tino Costa and Banega both moved forward to leave Gago in front of the back four alone, making them more like 4-1-4-1 with the ball. It was probably unwise to leave Gago covering the defence solo, and Real frequently attacked straight past him.

A notable feature of Real’s play was how they pressed Costa and Banega, with both Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso moving high up the pitch to close down. Valencia struggled to play vertical passes into their feet, and Real won the ball quickly, launching attacks immediately. Interestingly, Raphael Varane and Raul Albiol remained in a relatively deep position – they weren’t focused on staying compact, and seemed happy to allow a 15-20m gap between the lines.

Open between the lines

That’s unusual, although Mourinho’s Real have showed a surprising lack of regard for the concept of compactness previously – often their front four presses, then the defensive six players remain deep. This approach was probably due to Roberto Soldado’s pacey threat in behind – the striker had twice been wrongly flagged offside against Real in one-on-one situations previously this season. The aggressive nature of the midfield positioning stopped Banega and Costa, while the cautious defensive lineĀ nullifiedĀ Soldado.

The one problem was the possibility of other Valencia moving between the lines. Pablo Piatti stayed wide, taking on Coentrao, so was little danger in this respect – but Jonas, who prefers playing as a number ten, was a potential problem. Therefore, Alvaro Arbeloa had to stick very tight to Jonas – he was booked after 20 minutes for a foul on the Brazilian, which made his task even more tricky, but coped well for the rest of the game, making more tackles (seven) than any other player on the pitch. However, this narrowed Real down that flank, and with Angel Di Maria also tucking in, Andres Guardado got forward on the overlap, having Valencia’s best attempt at goal with a long-range effort.

Real counters

But Real’s main quality was on the break. Their first goal, like so many in the Mourinho era, came from an opposition corner. Mesut Ozil was the instigator of the break, turning sharply away from his opponent, and releasing Di Maria, who squared for Higuain to tap in.

Ozil’s small piece of movement summed up Real’s approach throughout the game – Di Maria was another who made intelligent, direct runs to break past opponents, but Khedira was equally impressive, always bursting straight past Costa to overload Gago in front of the defence. He constantly popped up in the penalty box, and should have got himself on the scoresheet.

Valencia problems

Valencia were particularly weak in wide positions. Guardado has coped well at left-back in recent weeks, but is plainly not a natural there, and Di Maria exploited his lack of quality. Ricardo Costa is a centre-back playing out of position, and in one-versus-one situations with Ronaldo he was hopeless, backing off and allowing Ronaldo into positions where he could cross (for Real’s second) or shoot (for Real’s third).

It was also inadvisable for Costa to be brave positionally, breaking past Ronaldo to stretch the play on the overlap – that simply allowed Ronaldo more space to break into, and while others have exploited Ronaldo’s lack of defensive discipline in the past, Valencia’s susceptibility to counter-attacks surely demanded caution from Costa.

That said, Valencia didn’t protect the back four enough. Piatti left too much space between himself and Costa, the midfield fluidity in possession meant Valencia had no structure (traditionally, they defend very well with two banks of four) and were easily opened up at transitions, while Gago had a terrible game in the holding role.

The Real counter-attacks came again, and again, and again. 0-5 by half-time, and then Real switched off – conserving their energy for this week’s Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg against…Valencia.


Brilliant counter-attacking combined with brave but logical ‘disjointed’ pressing without the ball. Real’s season has been an absolute disaster, with Mourinho seemingly losing the trust and respect of his charges, but this display demonstrated they still possess the ability to tear apart decent sides. They remain a big contender in the Champions League.

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