After hammering Valencia by five goals to nil in their best match of the season, Real Madrid players have reasons to celebrate.
Los Blancos finally looked again like the team that so convincingly won the league last season, and Madridistas will hope this is the first sign of a resurgence in form from their team.
Here are the ratings for every player involved, in each of the team's areas of defense, midfield and attack, with the podium of the three top players at the end.
Michael Essien: 5 - The Ghanaian came in for Xabi Alonso in the 57th minute and had little to do, the match having been resolved in the first half. His only notable intervention was getting booked in the 80th minute, for a pointless fling of the arm in a duel against Adel Rami. Had he caught the Valencia player a little bit higher, he could’ve easily been sent off.
Luka Modric: N/A - Modric came on for Özil in the 66th minute and had slightly under half an hour to show Mourinho he deserves a starting spot in this Madrid team. Although the intensity of the match had considerably dropped by this point, the Croatian showed very little on the pitch.
Jose Callejón: N/A - The young Spaniard came on for Sami Khedira for the last quarter of an hour and barely touched the ball in his time on the pitch.
Iker Casillas 7 – Casillas returned to the starting XI in the league with Adan available, and he couldn’t have had a smoother game. The game was effectively over before he had to make a meaningful intervention.
Despite that, Casillas acquitted himself admirably in the little he had to do. He showed assurance in the air, claiming the ball well from set pieces and crosses. He also made two good saves in the second part of the game, from Tino Costa (58’) and Nelson Valdez (76’).
Fabio Coentrao 6 – Coentrao, as was the case of most of Madrid’s defense, had a rather quiet game. He blocked a ball on the line in the early stages of the second half and provided the through ball to Cristiano Ronaldo for Madrid’s third goal. He also could have given away a penalty in the 72nd minute for a handball in the box.
Raul Albiol 7 – Albiol had an uneventful game and didn’t have much to do, although he seemed at ease in the few interventions he had to make. This was probably the best game he has played for Real Madrid in Sergio Ramos' and Pepe’s absence.
Raphaël Varane 7 – The Frenchman was the best player in Madrid’s defense. In the few good spells Valencia had in the second half, he showed great security in defense. Taking advantage of Madrid’s dominance, he even ventured in attack and showed flashes of quality in the Valencia half as well.
Alvaro Arbeloa 6.5 – Arbeloa had an intense start to the game. He could’ve have had an assist in the 7th minute, had Gonzalo Higuain not fired wide from inside the box. He also gave away a dangerous free kick for a foul on Jonas, and received a yellow card within the 20 first minutes of the match. He was solid in defense for the rest of the game.
Xabi Alonso 6 – Xabi Alonso has been one of the most regular players for Real this season but his performance against Valencia was rather underwhelming. He seemed outpaced and somewhat absent in the opening stages of the match. Although he slowly grew into the game, he never managed to run the Madrid midfield as he so often does.
Sami Khedira 7 – Khedira had a solid game for Madrid. He was strong in defense and built on that confidence to venture forward. At the heart of some of Madrid’s counterattacks, he had two chances to convert goals and wasted them both. Had he been a bit more clinical with his finishing he would’ve been in consideration for being the man of the match.
Gonzalo Higuain 7.5 – Higuain always enjoys playing in Valencia. With his latest goal at the Mestalla, he equaled Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano's tally on the same ground.
Higuain scored with a first-time shot in the 7th minute from a back pass by Di María. It was his 99th goal in the league for Madrid, and opened the game for Los Blancos and allowed them to dominate the rest of the encounter.
Despite missing a few chances to convert his centenary league goal, Higuain had his best match since returning from injury.
Cristiano Ronaldo 8 – Ronaldo had a mixed game for Los Blancos against Valencia. Such are the high standards expected from the Portuguese, that a mixed performance means he scored two goals and provided another in the space of seven minutes.
His assist for Di María came after he single-handedly neutralized the left flank of Valencia’s defense before serving the ball on a plate for the Argentine. The first of his two goals was a neat finish to Guaita’s near post after a quick break from midfield. While his second came at the end of a demonstration of technical ability, Ronaldo emphatically finishing after a first time assist from Mesüt Özil.
However, after this display of quality and efficiency, he somewhat faded out of the game. For a player that averages over seven shots per game, the three he had throughout the encounter seemed rather few. Two of them were the goals he converted in the first half. The third he uncharacteristically fired wide from close range while in an unbeatable position to complete his hat-trick.
He also could have won a penalty for his team, when Adel Rami brought him down in the box in the 71st minute. The referee dismissed the Portuguese’s appeals and another chance to keep the match ball went begging.
Ronaldo's two goals means he continues his unstoppable scoring run in 2013, with seven goals in four games.
Mesüt Özil 8.5 - Özil had by far his most complete game in the calendar year, with a majestic display at the heart of Madrid’s midfield. His movement was excellent throughout the match and he barely misplaced a pass, always choosing the best option available.
Although he did not get on the score sheet himself, he provided two goals for his teammates.
The first was an excellent one-touch cushioned ball in the box leaving Ronaldo to apply the killer touch. The second was a magnificent through ball into Di María’s path from midfield, leaving the entire Valencia defense on the back-foot.
Before that he had also been at the center of Higuain’s opener, providing a delicious through ball for Di María to assist his fellow Argentine.
With his technical abilities and intelligence proven time and time again, the question with Özil remains his capability to play at the top level for an entire match. After giving it all in this match, he was replaced by Luka Modric in the 66th minute, looking visibly exhausted.
However if he manages to have this type of impact playing just three quarters of a game, no Madridista will really mind.
Angel Di María 9 - After a few weeks of controversy and prominence in the Madrid press, Angel Di María finally made his most significant statement where it matters most: on the pitch.
After the match, the Argentine told the media he hoped he “had shut a few mouths”. He was referring to the controversies surrounding his poor performances since coming back from injury and his public complaints against referees (via ESPN).
And he did indeed.
Di María put in a stellar performance for Los Blancos, matching Ronaldo in scoring two goals and providing another. The latter came after a cut back for Higuain allowed his fellow Argentine to score the all-important opener. His first goal was a tap-in at the first post after some great play from Ronaldo. His second, Madrid’s fifth, was a confident finish after an assist from Özil left him one on one with the keeper.
However, Di María’s performance wasn't limited to his goals and assist. Perhaps the most visible sign of quality he provided was the first-time cross for Özil that culminated in Ronaldo’s second goal.
The most important aspect of his performance however, was his commitment and the renewed intensity he showed throughout the game That intensity that had been largely absent this season.
With 80 minutes on the clock and his team winning by a five-goal margin, he still tirelessly ran after the ball and closed down the Valencia players and keeper.
His renewed motivation may be thanks to José Mourinho’s strong words against him after his recent performances, or his anger at the press’ recent criticisms. What’s sure is that all Madrid fans will hope to see this Di María show up in the crucial games that remain this season.