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Offshore drilling: at Real Madrid 0, Valencia 0

Apr 8, 2012, 7:18 PM EDT

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Man of the match: Vincente Guaita’s save on Cristiano Ronaldo was his match’s standout moment, the Valencia `keeper getting a left palm to a shot headed for his lower-left hand corner. Two other great second half saves (both on Karim Benzema) along with dominance of his six-yard box in the match’s final moments helped Guaita complete the first shutout of Real at the Bernabeu since Victor Valdes kept a clean sheet on Apr.27, 2011.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • This wasn’t a matter of a team coming to the Bernabeu and holding on for dear life. While Valencia let Real Madrid dictate play, they had a clear plan. Higher up the pitch, Los Che were going to run until they dropped (with Pablo Hernández and Jeremy Mathieu providing seemingly scripted reinforcements for Pablo Piatti and Sofiane Feghouli near the hour mark). At the back, they were going to stay compact and force Real Madrid to beat them from distance or by cross (in an approach not dissimilar to what Carlo Ancelotti did to Marseille).
  • Even though Real Madrid had plenty of chances to win, Valencia’s plan worked. Los Blancos certainly had fewer clear chances than they’re used to generating, with the virtues of Valencia’s approach most evident in the 76th minute. Then, Ángel Di Maria was unable to blast a 22-yard shot through a crowded area, the block coming out to Marcelo roughly 34 yards from goal. It was a play we’ve seen so many times before – the ball sent right back in over a defense caught pushing up – but Real didn’t have the kind of penalty area presence to take advantage of it. While Marcelo’s cross for the back post was poor, Karim Benzema was seen cutting off his run, fading the right of the area.
  • And Benzema should have won this match in the 78th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo fed him a perfect ball near the spot, and while Guaita came quickly, most of the goal was there for the taking. Instead, Benzema’s attempted chip went straight to the Guaita, keeping it scoreless.
  • By the end of the match, Valencia was creating the better chances. Jeremy Mathieu had an open shot from 18 yards out in the 72nd minute. Aritz Aduriz had another chance minutes later with a header, and in the 85th minute, Iker Casillas had to come off his line to save Real’s point when Jordi Alba was put in behind Alvaro Arbeloa and Pepe. With Roberto Soldado brought on for the last 15 minutes, Valencia had the pieces to craft the upset.
  • Whereas Unai Emery looked like he had a precise plan for the match, José Mourinho seemed to be tinkering. He started both Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain together – a rarity. By the end of the match, he had all of Benzema, Ronaldo, Di Maria, Kaká, and Jose Callejon on (along with Xabi Alonso and Marcelo). That kind of kitchen sink approach has worked before, but tonight it contributed to the feeling Real Madrid was as likely to lose as win.
  • The draw leaves Real Madrid up four in La Liga, Barcelona sitting second with 75 points. Valencia point leaves them one up on Levante in third, but with first-place Malaga hosting Racing Santander in Monday, Los Che would find themselves in fourth by the time Rayo Vallecano visiting on Wednesday.
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