Real Madrid secured an important but hard-fought 3-0 victory over Valencia in La Liga on Thursday night. Karim Benzema netted a well-taken brace while substitute Marco Asensio marked his return to action after a lengthy injury lay-off with a goal and an assist in an action-packed second half.
It was far from plain sailing for Zinedine Zidane's side in the first half as Valencia had a goal ruled out after a lengthy VAR review. Rodrigo thought he'd broken the deadlock midway through the half but the goal was ruled out for offside. Maximiliano Gomez strayed offside and was adjudged to have touched the ball in the build-up before his Spanish teammate fired past Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was the visitors' best player, making first-half saves from Eden Hazard and Dani Carvajal to keep the scores level. However, it was only a matter of time before that would change after the interval.
Sergio Ramos forcefully won the ball from substitute Kevin Gameiro near the touchline before his pass upfield saw Hazard and Luka Modric combine dangerously in the final third. A stretching Hazard pipped young centre-back Hugo Guillamon to the ball and slid across a pass for Benzema to his right. The experienced Frenchman made no mistake, cooly slotting into the bottom corner to break the deadlock on the hour mark.
It went from bad to worse for Valencia fifteen minutes later as Asensio doubled Real Madrid's lead with his first touch just seconds after coming on. Benzema added one more goal to his side's tally in the 86th minute as he controlled Asensio's pass beautifully before slamming the ball into the top corner with aplomb.
After such promise in the first hour, the evening couldn't have ended much worse for Albert Celades and Valencia. They host mid-table Osasuna on Sunday and are eager to get their aspirations back on track by finishing this weekend with a win.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid face an away trip to Champions League hopefuls Real Sociedad this weekend and will be looking to continue applying pressure on leaders Barcelona.
Without further ado though, here's a look at five hits and flops from Real Madrid's latest victory:
#5 Flop: Federico Valverde, Real Madrid
Federico Valverde tested Cillessen with an ambitious effort early in the second half but failed to occupy intelligent attacking positions when venturing forward and often found himself a spectator out of possession.
His case wasn't helped by the fact that he was playing in an unfamiliar role as a wide midfielder as opposed to his favoured central position. Whenever he drifted infield, the Uruguay international wasn't viewed as a reliable passing outlet. Instead, he was often shunned out of Real Madrid's passing combinations by his teammates.
The 21-year-old could not build up play as effectively as Kroos or Hazard down the right-hand side, which meant most of his scurries forward were used as dummy runs to distract or deter attention away from their intended targets.
After 73 minutes, he was replaced by Marco Asensio, who made his long-awaited return from injury and was much more suited to the role as a left-sided midfielder.
#4 Hit: Jasper Cillessen, Valencia
Jasper Cillessen made a series of important saves to keep Real Madrid at bay, especially when Hazard and Carvajal were taking several shots in the first half.
He often showed great anticipation and improvisation when Los Blancos players were bearing down on goal. An example of his spontaneity during the game was when he made himself a big presence and performed an outstretched-leg save at his near post to thwart Carvajal's deft effort.
The 31-year-old quickly proved to be Valencia's most reliable form of defence against a Real Madrid side who recorded 19 shots- 14 of which were on target- over the 90 minutes.
He made a whopping 11 saves but could do nothing about any of the three goals conceded. More importantly, the goals did not deter him from trying to keep his side in the match for as long as possible.
#3 Flop: Daniel Parejo, Valencia
Daniel Parejo put in a lacklustre performance for Valencia and was largely left frustrated by Real Madrid at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
His passing was poor at precisely the time when Los Ches needed their captain to lead by example and control possession under pressure. He was dribbled past on three separate occasions, didn't complete any defensive actions (blocks, clearances, interceptions or tackles) and lost possession ten times.
This meant more work for 20-year-old centre-back Hugo Guillamón, who did remarkably well considering the circumstances. However, even he couldn't stop his Madrid opponents from finding their groove as the match wore on.
Unsurprisingly, Francis Coquelin replaced Parejo after 68 minutes, a change that probably should have been made sooner. By this point, Real Madrid had already sunk their teeth into a busy Valencia backline and broken the deadlock.
#2 Hit: Toni Kroos, Real Madrid
As usual, Toni Kroos embraced his role as Real Madrid's pace-setter. He was constantly looking to stretch the visitors and quicken play with his incisive passes, something his teammates weren't doing very often early on.
His influence is overlooked in games like these, where he doesn't score or assist in an ultimately comfortable win. However, if you watched the game live, you'd appreciate just how important the German's experience and technical ability was on their way to the victory.
Unselfish as ever, he set Vinicius Junior through just seconds after the Brazilian's introduction, which almost helped create their third goal.
It was his excellent crossfield pass which set Asensio on his way to tee up Benzema for the Frenchman's second goal, ten minutes after the midfielder's corner delivery was poorly cleared by Valencia defenders in the box. He also came close with a good free-kick later in the game, one which Cillessen had to tip over the crossbar.
#1 Hit: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema had to bide his time patiently and wait for his chances during the game but he made no mistake when they fell into his path. The 32-year-old netted a well-taken brace on Thursday night, taking his tally up to 16 league goals this term and closing the gap on leading goalscorer Lionel Messi to five.
The Frenchman, who turns 33 in December, has shown no signs of slowing down and appears rejuvenated by the enforced hiatus. His first goal was a razor-sharp finish as he latched on to Hazard's sliding pass before firing beyond Cillessen into the bottom corner in the second half.
For his second goal, Benzema unleashed a moment of magic that few across the world can replicate. Asensio's lofted flick into his path left him with a ball in mid-air that he did well to control before striking a volley with his left foot.
It's increasingly clear that Real Madrid need Benzema at his best if they are to achieve their lofty ambitions for the rest of the campaign. The forward's off-ball running and intelligent movement to get into these dangerous positions aren't given enough credit. After a deadly goalscoring display against Valencia, however, he might just start getting the respect he deserves.Published 19 Jun 2020, 09:36 IST