Spanish Football’s Real Madrid had another La Liga hiccup last week. They went into Mestalla Stadium and dealt hosts Valencia a barely earned 4-1 defeat. Cristiano Ronaldo converted two penalties (16th and 38th) and Marcelo and Toni Kroos collected garbage-time goals at the 84th and 89th respectively. Santi Mina got Valencia’s 58th minute consolation score.
Under extreme pressure for the poor results his transparent lack of coaching savvy has garnered, Real’s Zinedine Zidane put his strongest side on the pitch, save the injured Sergio Ramos. The coach opted for the BBC attack and was rewarded with some excellent play from Bale, goal-scoring productivity from Ronaldo, and a consistently unproductive contribution from Karim Benzema. The Frenchman muffed plays at the following minute marks 2:38, 12:02, 17:50, 33:40, and 44:51. In fairness, this was not Benzema’s worst game, only he is still more often a drag than a plus for his team.
Luka Modric, Kroos and to a lesser extent Casemiro, had decent games, while Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Varane, and to a greater extent, Marcelo, had good games. Keylor Navas was the Madrid side’s difference maker snuffing out several key goal scoring chances that first kept his side in the match and then secured the result.
But this was no cake walk. The hosts, as expected, held their own and it took a poor Benzema return pass to Ronaldo in the box to force the issue. The return pass of the give-and-go play, put Ronaldo on a collision course with two Valencia defenders who sandwiched him and brought him down for the penalty call.
With the game still a toss-up, despite the early score, it took another penalty to settle Madrid’s nerves. The play, off a cross that saw Benzema pushed roughly down as the ball arrived, is rarely called by refs these days but the duo was at the far end of the box with the rest of the players on the opposite side. So the ref was able to follow the ball’s trajectory and witness the obvious foul. For Madrid, the real bonus was to get Ronaldo on the scoreline.
The second half began with the same players on the pitch and with a feeling the unearned 2-goal margin was wafer thin. Soon enough the Valencia score put Madrid on its back heels and Zidane was at pains to figure out what would motivate his team to overcome their lackadaisical performance. It took eleven minutes for the coach to react and when he did it was to pull Bale, his most consistent attacking threat, and replace him with Lucas Vazquez.
When that did not work, Zidane did his usual, substituting Benzema at the 78th minute, giving Asensio and the rest of the team twelve minutes to rectify what had been festering for thirty-three minutes. The coach simply seems immune to the folly of his ways.
Of course, the balm for all Real Madrid ills has always been its star-studded roster and Asensio soon teamed-up with Marcelo for a lucky goal at the near post between Murara Neto’s wide open legs. Twenty-six minutes after Valencia’s goal, Real reacted.
And then, as if to mock the entire star-crossed event Kroos teamed up with 88th minute sub, Mateo Kovacic for the goal of the game at the 89th minute. It was a flowing teamwork play that culminated in a back heel from the Croat to the German who slotted low and to the right post from about the half-moon. Golazo!
So what do you think the coach learned from this match? One guess—nothing. Zidane keeps doing the same thing and expecting different results and when he gets one out of ten to go his way that is all he needs to feel vindicated. The other nine times, he falls back on the “I’m not changing my ways and I’m backing my players,” ploy as if that were the way to address the glaring issue of his coaching naiveté.
Unfortunately, this latest result had more of the feel of the 7-1 win over Deportivo or the 5-0 win over Sevilla, mere blips on the way to a disastrous, self-inflicted debacle of a season. The real test, in President Florentino Perez’s view, may well come when the Merengues play PSG, but given the coach-hunting rumors, the omens are not rosy for Zidane, if ironically, promising for the team.