Valencia 2 Real Madrid 2: Last night’s high-profile battle of the former Manchester United and Liverpool favourites Gary Neville and Rafa Benitez, now in charge of La Liga sides Valencia and Madrid, respectively, saw plenty of Premier League excitement.
However, the 2-2 draw does not help either out-of-form team in their respective battles to keep pace with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at the top .
Madrid went ahead on 17 minutes when Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo combined beautifully before Karim Benzema confidently finished from 18 yards. Benitez’s side were playing nice stuff, but, bit by bit, Valencia came back into the game as Neville’s men showed spirit.
Home players Joao Cancelo and Andre Gomes missed chances, before the latter was upended by defender Pepe and ex-Madrid youth-teamer Dani Parejo converted the penalty.
Bale was angry, as he wanted a penalty at the other end, but his team had sat back after going ahead, and had not managed another shot on target between Benzema’s goal and Parejo’s equaliser.
Into the second half and both teams were playing cagily, neither wanting to get caught on the break. Benitez removed goalscorer Benzema for midfielder Lucas Vazquez, which seemed a defensive substitution and his team were soon down to 10 men when midfielder Mateo Kovacic was red carded for a lunge on Cancelo, just after Ronaldo had gone down sprawling claiming a penalty.
Just when it seemed both teams would take a point, the action quickened. Bale superbly flicked in Toni Kroos’ free kick to put Madrid ahead, only for Valencia to race up the other end for Paco Alcacer to nod an equaliser from Rodrigo Moreno’s clever nod down.
A frantic ending saw Valencia sub Alvaro Negredo spurn a great chance for a winner, before Bale fired over from 10 yards at the other end.
The result was reasonable for Benitez, whose team had lost two of their last three away in La Liga, and who had been whistled by their fans as they won four at home.
Things were happier for the 55 year old before the game - with a warm welcome from the home fans for the coach who won two La Liga trophies and the UEFA Cup when in charge at Mestalla from 2001 to 2004. “Rafa, you gave us the best years of our lives,” said a banner.
There was also a reunion for Neville with his former United teammate Ronaldo. Neville has been credited with helping [or ordering] an immature teenage Ronaldo to remove crowd-pleasing tricks and focus on damaging opponents. The now almost 31-year-old Portuguese provided the assist for Benzema’s opener, but was otherwise quiet.
Valencia’s performance and spirit shown is a positive for Neville, who said this week he was planning on staying well past end of his current contract in June, having already rented a house for his family, and found a local school for his children.
However, he has now just three points from his first four games in charge, and Valencia lie a full 13 points off fourth placed Villarreal and the last Champions League qualification spot.
Neville now must shuffle his injury hit squad for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey last 16 first leg at home to Granada.
With Madrid thrown out of the competition last month for fielding an ineligible player, Benitez has a perhaps welcome break this midweek. The 55-year-old Madrid native said on Saturday he was hoping to keep fielding questions about his Bernabeu future for another two or three years, but this result probably means he’ll at least be around for next Saturday’s home game against Deportivo La Coruna.
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