Valencia vs. Real Madrid: 5 Things for Madrid to Fear
It's the time of year when the RFEF throws its hat into the ring of the scheduling mayhem in Spain, adding the King's Cup double-headers into an already packed program.
Often, this leads to teams playing each other several times in a a few days, which is the case with Real Madrid and Valencia, and Barcelona and Malaga.
Both the "big two" won their first games comfortably enough, although Valencia was up in arms about the referee's performance after the match, citing dodgy offside calls, a not-given penalty and a handball by Gonzalo Higuain.
Barcelona was pegged back by Malaga in a 2-2 first-leg tie at Camp Nou, a surprise result after Manuel Pellegrini's side passed off the pitch last Sunday.
Valencia will fancy its chances of doing the same thing next week at home to Real in the second leg. In the meantime, it has the opportunity for some swift retribution for the apparent wrongs of the cup game.
Here are five things for Real to look out for.
5. Roberto Soldado
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Real's season started off with dropped points when Valencia visited the Bernabeu in August.
Jonas scored the goal that nicked the first points of the season off the champion but Soldado, a former Real player, had one disallowed. Against Real on Tuesday, Soldado was as profligate in front of Iker Casillas as Jonas and the rest of the team.
The Valencia No. 9 will be fired up and eager to add to his tally for the season after bagging two last time out against Sevilla. Old teammate and former Sevilla defender Sergio Ramos is still suspended, which doesn't help Real's cause.
4. Ever Banega
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Argentinean midfielder Banega missed the second half of last season after a freak car accident and Valencia missed his presence.
Against Real in the cup match, he was the visitors' most influential performer and a constant source of concern to Real in the middle.
Sami Khedira was singled out for praise by Aitor Karanka after the first match of the triple-header, and the German will need to put in another hard-working shift at Mestalla to keep Banega quiet.
3. David Albelda
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Practically retired by Mauricio Pellgrino in the first half of the season, Albelda was handed a spot in the side by Ernesto Valverde. As a result, Valencia immediately tightened up at the back.
With the no-nonsense midfielder patrolling in front of Ruiz, Costa or Rami, Valencia is difficult to break down and has only conceded seven since Valverde's arrival at the start of December.
With Dani Parejo out for three weeks, Albelda is almost guaranteed a starting berth. Valencia will lose a little creativity in that area as a result, but some steel will replace it.
2. Diego Alves
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Emilio Butragueño commented after the cup match that Vicente Guaita had kept Valencia in the tie. The Real director was not far wrong, as Guaita made nine saves during the match.
However, while the goalkeeping debate rages on at the Bernabeu, Diego Alves appears to be fist choice at Valencia for now, at least in the league. The Brazil stopper has played 17 times in La Liga and while he's only kept four clean sheets, he also kept Real and Barcelona to a single goal at the Bernabeu and Camp Nou.
Over the course of the past five seasons, Alves has saved more than 50 percent of all penalties taken against him, including one each from Messi and Ronaldo. It's useful to have a shot-stopper of his quality when facing the "big two."
1. The Boot Being on the Other Foot
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Pressure on referees in Spain is intense. Pretty much every side in the league tries the usual tricks leading into games to curry a little influence.
Valencia's complaints about Cesar Muñiz Fernandez and his assistants, which resulted in Valverde being sent off in the second, won't have gone unnoticed in the officials' fraternity.
With Valencia at home, the decisions are likely to be more favorable than at the Bernabeu. The man in charge for the league game is Fernando Teixeira Vitienes, who Mourinho once waited menacingly in the car park for after a match. He then made some suggestions about the referee that cannot be printed here.
For the return cup match, the man in charge is Miguel Angel Perez Lasa, who Mourinho once said he hoped would never referee another Real match. Or another Barcelona one.
They say decisions even out over the course of a season. Two matches at Mestalla are to Valencia's advantage.