Solitary goal sees Real Madrid triumph
LA LIGA SANTANDER ROUND 21
ESTADIO JOSÉ ZORRILLA, VALLADOLID, SPAIN
REAL VALLADOLID 0
REAL MADRID 1
Real Valladolid succumbed to a solitary goal from Nacho as Real Madrid moved to the summit of La Liga Santander, but the visitors struggled at times to break down a resolute Pucela defence.
After opting to fly the short distance to Salamanca earlier in the week, where they saw off Segunda B’s Unionistas CF in the Copa del Rey, Zinedine Zidane’s side further impacted on the world’s pollution problem by repeating the trick for the 200km journey to Valladolid. Thankfully, the capital side did not wear their limited edition “climate awareness” third kit and chose an all-navy change outfit instead. The Frenchman made eight changes to the side who beat Unionistas 3-1. Thibaut Courtois returned between the posts, with only Nacho retaining his place in the back four. Fede Valverde dropped to the bench, while Toni Kroos and Luka Modric returned to partner Casemiro in a three-man midfield. Karim Benzema, who had scored three goals and registered an assist in his last two matches against Real Valladolid, was the central striker flanked by Isco on the left and Rodrygo on the right.
Sergio’s side went into this match having drawn five out of their previous six league matches and had not scored a goal in the six of their last eight outings in the competition. They had also crashed out of the Copa del Rey to Tenerife in the Segunda, to further compound the difficult spell for the blanquivioletas. The Real Valladolid manager kept his faith in the traditional 4-4-2 model, with new signing Raul Carnero making his second start at left-back and Antoñito continued on the opposite side for his fourth start in a row having featured very little since September. In a curious move, Sergio opted for a midfield with no recognised wide players; Óscar Plano, Toni Villa, Waldo and Pablo Hervías all began the match on the bench, while Fede San Emeterio lined up on the left flank and Rubén Alcaraz on the right. Enes Ünal and Sergi Guardiola formed the attacking duo and – with Sandro being a late call-off due to illness – Promesas player Miguel was promoted to the squad.
From the outset Real Valladolid set up to try and stifle their opponents, who were looking to take advantage of Barcelona’s slip-up at Valencia and reclaim first place in the league with a victory. Joaquín could count himself lucky to still be on the pitch when he dived into a two-footed challenge on Rodrygo after ten minutes, which left the young Real Madrid forward writhing on the José Zorrilla turf. However, referee Ricardo de Burgos downplayed the tackle and saw the yellow card as a fitting reaction.
Just two minutes later, the visitors had the ball in the net. From the resulting freekick following Joaquín’s challenge, Toni Kroos flighted a perfect ball into the Real Valladolid penalty area and Casemiro rose at the back post to head the ball past Jordi Masip. However, the goal was chalked off upon further review as it showed the Brazilian had got in ahead of his marker, Joaquín, to an offside position as the ball was delivered.
The first half was not blessed with many opportunities as Real Madrid found it difficult to unlock their deep-lying opponents. Pucela came close to pulling off a shock lead when Míchel’s corner from the left dropped awkwardly onto Courtois, but the Belgian was able to tip it away. Casemiro attempted a shot from long range six minutes before the break, but it failed to find the target and sailed harmlessly over the bar.
After the restart, Zidane’s men began to impose their authority. Five minutes into the second period, Casemiro’s blocked shot fell into the path of Rodrygo who forced Masip to parry a low effort away to his left and – shortly after – Sergio Ramos saw his header from a corner deflected behind.
Míchel made way for Toni Villa, and Masip took over as captain. In the initial minutes after entering the field of play, Toni Villa took up a central midfield role but, as time wore on, he drifted out to his customary left-winger position.
A clumsy passage of defensive play saw Mohammed Salisu concede a free kick on the very edge of the box, however Isco was unable to get the ball to dip after clearing the wall and the effort went over Masip’s crossbar. Rodrygo clipped in a neat left-footed cross from the right-hand side of the box and Benzema outjumped Kiko Olivas but he guided his header just past the left post.
Enes Ünal, who had put in a huge amount of effort tracking back to defend on numerous occasions, was replaced by Óscar Plano with just under fifteen minutes to play. The Turkish forward had often been found mopping up play in the left-back area, such had been his contribution, and his work rate had not gone un-noticed as the José Zorrilla rose to applaud his work as he exited the field.
The breakthrough came for the visitors on 78 minutes, through a set piece and an unlikely source. Kroos sent in a corner from the right which was headed back out towards him by a combination of Salisu and Joaquín, and he floated another delivery into the crowded penalty area. Right-back Nacho jumped between Óscar Plano and Sergi Guardiola and his header eluded Masip to find the back of the net. It was a crushing blow for Pucela who had managed to extinguish much of the attacking threat to this point.
The response from the home team was positive and Plano received a pass from Alcaraz and spun neatly before feeding the ball through to Guardiola, but as the striker pulled the trigger Benjamin Mendy got across to block it. In a further attacking move, San Emeterio made way for young Miguel to bolster the front line. Guardiola, who netted in the 87th minute of the first meeting between the sides in Round 2, looked as if he had repeated the feat in the same minute of this contest. Carnero’s out-swinging left-footed corner was touched on in the are by the head of Salisu and the striker, who had stolen in behind Kroos at the back post, hooked it past Courtois. However, the assistant referee on the far touchline raised his flag immediately to cut the celebrations short.
Real Madrid held firm and left with the three points, but those connected with Pucela should take heart from a performance against one of the toughest teams they will face in the league. To have earned the second draw of the campaign against the Madrid giants would have been a reward for their endeavour, but Real Valladolid must now refocus and look to Saturday’s trip to Mallorca. The islanders sit one place behind the blanquivioletas in 17th, four points back. Sergio’s side are now just five points from being caught in the relegation mire, so this has become a crucial match to put some further daylight between themselves and the bottom three.
REAL VALLADOLID (4-4-2): Jordi Masip; Raúl Carnero, Mohammed Salisu, Kiko Olivas, Antoñito, Fede San Emeterio (Miguel 81’), Joaquín, Míchel (Capt.) (Toni Villa 58’), Rubén Alcaraz, Enes Ünal (Óscar Plano 76’), Sergi Guardiola.
Substitutes unused: Samu Pérez; Javi Moyano, Nacho, Pablo Hervías.
REAL MADRID (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Ferland Mendy, Sergio Ramos (Capt.), Raphael Varane, Nacho Fernández, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric (Fede Valverde 88’), Isco (Lucas Vázquez 73’), Karim Benzema, Rodrygo (Luka Jovic 92’).
Substitutes unused: Alphonse Areola; Éder Militao, Marcelo, James Rodríguez.
Referee: Ricardo de Burgos