The last time Real Madrid met Valencia, calamity struck as the defending champions dug their own grave, in a game which was the beginning of Madrid’s downfall in their title defence. Whenever they come up against Los Che, it’s usually an action-packed contest, and today’s encounter which kicks off at 16:15 CET, should be no different.
Real kick off at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano today level on points with second placed Barcelona, but have a superior head to head over the Catalans. But hot on Madrid’s tails are Sevilla, Julen Lopetegui’s men beat Huesca 1-0 yesterday, taking them to within a point of Madrid. Luckily for Real, as bad as their domestic form and campaign has been, they remain 10 points clear of fifth placed Villarreal, so they should qualify for the UEFA Champions League, unless of course disaster really strikes.
Zinedine Zidane was at home recovering from Covid-19 as Real lost 2-1 to Levante on their own turf, but have since beaten Huesca 2-1 and Getafe 2-0 to bounce back from that potentially title-hope ending defeat. Since Valencia beat Madrid 4-1 back in November 2020, they’ve played 13 league games, winning only twice, and losing four times. But it would be typical of a Valencia outfit to turn up as a team possessed against the capital club, which they clearly take more seriously than other opponents.
The key talking point
Valencia are still without much of an identity under Javi Gracia, but a lot of emphasis is on their full-backs, particularly captain Jose Gaya playing a crucial role in linking the midfield to the attack. They whip in a lot of crosses, and you can expect them to be hurling cross after cross in, from right and left, against a Madrid team which are often punishable at the back-post due to height advantage. Time and time after again we have seen teams look to target Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez or Alvaro Odrizola at the back-peg, with crosses in from the right, because a slight error in judgement from whoever is playing at right-back for Madrid, usually gives a clear height advantage to the opponent. So expect that.
From Madrid’s perspective, they’ll have Toni Kroos back, who will be pivotal to how the hosts control the tempo of the game, but with Kroos on the pitch, there’s also more danger from Madrid’s flanks. His ability to pick a pass over the top of the defence often activates the left flank, and his ability to quickly switch play to the right flank, who’s usually in space because Madrid tend to overload the left, will be a valuable asset to have in this contest. Zidane may opt to go with a three at the back once more, with Lucas or Carvajal as the right wing-back, it worked like a treat against Getafe, but the absence of Marcelo might make him re-think that system, which appeared like something the Frenchman put together in order to get Ferland Mendy and Marcelo in one starting XI. Valencia have conceded 16 goals in the 13 games since beating Madrid in November, so there’ll be plenty of chances for the reigning champions.
Zidane won’t be able to call upon Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Odriozola, Rodrygo Goes, Federico Valverde, Eden Hazard and Marcelo, all of them are out through injury, although a number of them have returned to the grass during training and recovery sessions. The good news is that Lucas and Carvajal are back, and Kroos has served his one game suspension, and had a well earned rest too.
The visitors, meanwhile, won’t have Hugo Guillamon through suspension, and Mouctar Diakhaby, Cristiano Piccini and Denis Cheryshev are absent with injuries. Los Che will be hoping Carles Soler will recover from his small issure, but Eliaquim Mangala will almost certainly miss the clash.
The last time they met?
It came during a time where Madrid were struggling for consistency in both the league and in the Champions League group stages, but it was also the result which set the tone for what was to come. Losing 4-1 to a mediocre Valencia side, in turmoil, but the painful thing wasn’t the defeat, it was the manner in which they lost. They gifted Valencia three penalties, with Soler scoring all three, and Raphael Varane scored a clumsy own goal too. All of that was after Karim Benzema gave Madrid a 23rd minute lead during that matchday nine encounter.