Real Madrid handed down the gauntlet to Barcelona, with a late 2-1 win over Valencia. The win has Madrid topping La Liga by three points, although Barcelona can reclaim their crown by defeating RCD Espanyol tonight.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a well-taken header in the 27th minute, although he missed a great chance to double Madrid’s lead, with Diego Alves saving his 57th-minute penalty. Dani Parejo nearly struck a critical blow in the title race with an incredible 82nd-minute free-kick, only for Marcelo to rescue Los Blancos with an 86th-minute strike.
Here are the major talking points from the game
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo continues to rewrite record books
A new goal, a new record.
The Portuguese superstar seems to break a record with every goal he scores, but Cristiano Ronaldo will look upon the goal he scored today with particular fondness. It was his 367th league goal in Europe’s Top 6 leagues, taking him past the legendary Jimmy Greaves, breaking a record that stood for 47 years. He’s also scored 20+ goals in each of his eight seasons at Real Madrid – showing how consistent he is.
Football fans ought to really appreciate how lucky we are to witness the likes of Ronaldo and Messi – they have made mind-boggling feats seem mundane - Ronaldo was anything but mundane today. The Portuguese star’s ability to deliver in the decisive moments was crucial against Valencia, who made a great start to the game and troubled Madrid a fair bit before Ronaldo did his thing, scoring the 590th goal of his professional career.
Ronaldo wasn’t the selfish player he’s been accused of being as he ages, he set up Morata, James and Benzema quite often today, only for his teammates to fluff their lines. The Portuguese star looks well on his way to adapting his game, which ought to spell good news for Real Madrid.
#2 Diego Alves – the Penalty Whisperer
As the cameras cut to Valencia boss Voro’s face on the touchline when Dani Parejo conceded a penalty with a foul on Modric in the box, there was no look of disgust or pain. Instead, Voro knew that his keeper was the best in the world when it came to saving penalties. To no one’s surprise, Diego Alves saved Cristiano Ronaldo’s effort, the third save in four penalties he has faced from the Portuguese superstar.
History’s best goalkeepers – your Buffons, Casillas, Neuers, Schmeichels etc have averaged a penalty save rate of 20-25%. From the 53 penalties that Diego Alves has faced in his career, the Brazilian has saved an incredible 26 penalties – a save rate of 49.05%! He’s stopped the best – Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Cristiano Ronaldo – very few have an answer to beating him from the penalty spot regularly.
He’s already made La Liga history, but football is such a cruel game for goalkeepers, that Alves walks away the loser today, despite his heroics.
#3 Marcelo is the best fullback in the world
Just a few minutes before Marcelo scored his incredible late winner, the Brazilian fullback had cut inside on his right foot and tried to cross but made an almighty mess of it, wildly hammering the ball to the opposite wing. So when Marcelo cut back inside on his weaker right foot in the 86th minute, little was expected of him. Boy, how he answered his doubters!
He’s been the best fullback in the world for quite some time now, despite copping criticism for not fouling Sergi Roberto late on in El Clasico. Yet, Marcelo plays football in an unrelenting fashion that’s become a symbol of his team. Madrid’s defenders have contributed 22 goals and 29 assists this season, with Marcelo topping the assists chart with 11, followed by Dani Carvajal on 10, the two best in La Liga.
The Brazilian has ironed out his defensive weaknesses – Valencia have great wingers, but they were forced into switching wings after gaining no quarter from the Brazilian. If anyone deserved to be Real Madrid’s hero tonight, it was their under-appreciated left-back.
#4 Valencia’s defensive issues are befuddling
For 85 minutes of the game, Valencia were surprisingly decent at the back. Elaquim Mangala, Martin Montoya, Ezequiel Garay and Toni Lato did not look like part of a defence that has conceded 61 goals in 35 games this season. In fact, Real Madrid often struggled to break down Los Che’s backline, who are the fifth worst in La Liga.
The other 5 minutes of the game is why Valencia sit 12th in the table – Mangala and Garay both switched off uncharacteristically when Carvajal crossed for Ronaldo’s goal – the duo dealt with every other cross masterfully today. When Dani Parejo offered them a lifeline with his free-kick, Valencia showed why they’re not a top team.
Marcelo had troubled Montoya for most of the game, but was allowed to face the Valencia right-back in a one-on-one situation with no support in the 86th minute. Diego Alves’ crestfallen look spoke volumes – there is only so much he can do. Los Che have some fine defenders individually, but if they want to return to the top of La Liga, they’ll need more – they’ll need teamwork.
#5 Real Madrid’s character does not get enough credit
Ahead of the game, Zinedine Zidane was quizzed on his ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team, but the Frenchman waved it off, revealing that he viewed each of his player as an ‘A’ team footballer. It’s a sense of unity that flows deep within Real Madrid’s squad – which bailed them out today, as Real Madrid drew on their team spirit to perform another late show.
Los Blancos have scored an amazing 21 goals in the last 10 minutes of their La Liga games, the most of any team in all of Europe’s Top 5 leagues. This Real Madrid team simply does not know when it is beaten. It’s not a feeling they are familiar with – Zinedine Zidane has lost only 6 of his 80 games in charge – in comparison, Luis Enrique, Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have lost more.
Character is what builds great teams, and we’re witnessing the gradual formation of another one here.