Real Madrid: Best and Worst from Sunday's 3-2 Win over Valencia
There's no denying the quality of Di Maria's goal and assist on Sunday. More on that later. But what that highlight package overshadowed was a rather inconsistent shift. The Argentine finished the evening with two of his five attempts blocked, one of his 11 crosses connected and just one successful take-on.
He attempted four.
But all that pales in comparison to another disappointing evening from Sergio Ramos.
Read on to find out why.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Best: Angel Di Maria's Goal
As far as aesthetic goals go, few were better this weekend than Angel Di Maria's strike in the 28th minute of Sunday's victory.
The sequence opened with a perfectly chipped pass from Marcelo. A deft touch off Di Maria's chest allowed the ball to rest mercifully at his feet. After successfully completing his only take-on of the match—embarrassingly leaving Valencia defender Juan Bernet unbalanced in his posture—Di Maria emphatically sent the ball home.
It was his first league goal since Real Madrid's 2-0 victory over Malaga in October.
Di Maria would double down on his highlight reel with a ravishing cross in the 40th minute. The set-piece assist resulted in Cristiano Ronaldo's 18th league goal of the season. Offside shouts were heard from the Valencia defense, but the linesman thought otherwise.
According to Spanish outlet Marca, Di Maria is just looking to earn his keep:
I have to keep doing things well in these matches and in training. I am thinking about Real Madrid and I am still working hard. The coach and everyone around me knows. I have to keep going and try to earn a place in the team.
The highlight package aided his cause, but a more consistent and well-rounded performance will be necessary to solidify his position moving forward.
Look deeper at the numbers. The combination play of Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso set the tone Sunday evening. The two combined for six tackles, four successful dribbles, three clearances and seven interceptions. It didn't hurt that they completed 155-of-170 total passes (91 percent), either.
The duo will prove to be catalysts in the defensive midfield of Carlo Ancelotti's 4-2-3-1 formation moving forward.
Worst: Diego Lopez's Saunter in the 62nd Minute
In Diego Lopez's defense, not much could be done about Valencia's first goal. More on that later.
But there's no defending his performance when Jeremy Mathieu equalized in the 62nd minute. Opting to come off your line in pursuit of a taken corner is acceptable, but you better claim it. Ownership of the six-yard box must be asserted.
Lopez did none of that.
A half-hearted saunter three yards off his line left a chipped opening for the opposition. In the sequence, Lopez failed to protect his line, claim the cross and assert ownership of his area. Mathieu ensured he paid dearly for it.
Thus far in his La Liga campaign, Lopez has just four clean sheets in 17 appearances. Iker Casillas has three in six Champions League performances. It doesn't help Lopez's case that his average punch percentage (47) is 20 points lower than Casillas' (67).
His 2.19 saves per goal is as troubling when compared to the 5.25 average of his counterpart.
Rumors indicate Real Madrid are considering selling Casillas in the January window.
If there's any validity to those rumors, the numbers glaringly point out they should reconsider.
Best: Carlo Ancelotti Gets It Right
You have to give credit where credit is due. The credit here belongs to Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian was questioned after some puzzling substitutions in last Saturday's 2-2 draw with Osasuna. Chasing a goal, Ancelotti opted to substitute Jese in place of Isco. Eighty-four minutes into the match, the 21-year-old performed at a man-of-the-match level.
Karim Benzema wandered aimlessly around the pitch and served as a more logical choice for replacement.
Questions were raised as the substitution proved to be ineffective.
Ancelotti was faced with a similar scenario Sunday evening.
This time, the €7.5 million manager got it right.
The rationale favored Ancelotti's decision to substitute Isco off in the 73rd minute. At the time, the midfielder was playing beneath his recent form and did very little with the ball at his feet (zero dribbles). Even worse, a majority of his action (28.38 percent) took place by the center circle.
Real Madrid needed a spark. Jese provided it just nine minutes into his shift.
In reality, the 20-year-old forward nearly assisted Real Madrid's match-winner instead of striking it. An overlaping run from Daniel Carvajal was met by a delectable pass from Jese. But rather than strike the ball past the near post, Carvajal opted to pull it back into the center of the six-yard box.
Seconds later, the favor was returned to Jese. This time, it was Modric who provided the succulent pass. Jese was now faced with a similar situation as his teammate. An acute angle required an accurate shot past the near post.
He left zero doubts with his execution.
As Spanish outlet Marca points out, the match winner was all just part of the dream:
If we hadn't scored, we'd have had our work cut out in the league. It was a really important goal and victory. I'm living the dream. I'm really happy and grateful to the gaffer for giving me a chance. Everyone has to grow into their place in the team, like I am gradually. I'm performing well and I think the gaffer is starting to take note. I want to stay at Real and earn more game time. I hope to contribute more.
Remember, Jese: More "game time" won't be hard to come by if production follows when called upon.
Worst: Sergio Ramos' Marking
You don't want to be a regular part of this segment, Sergio Ramos.
Last Sunday, the Spaniard's deficient composure was the target of reprehension. This time, it's shoddy defending and a lack of aerial prowess that landed Ramos in the "worst" section of Real Madrid's 3-2 victory.
Now, the numbers slightly favor the defender's performance. Five clearances, 95 percent accuracy with his passes and six successful headed duels round out his resume.
But two instances nearly cost his club.
Horrific marking inside the area led to Pablo Piatti's header in the 34th minute. The 24-year-old was awarded a golden opportunity after Ramos failed to close appropriately. He did himself no favors in the second half, either. A languid effort in the air allowed Mathieu to wrap his head around Daniel Parejo's cross.
It was truly a horrid night's work, but a resolute Ramos surfaced after the match.
Spanish outlet Marca once again carried the quotes:
As I always say, when a teammate makes a mistake you should never point the finger. Just like no one in particular is responsible when the team wins. We win together and lose together. I won't let the criticism get to me: I strive to improve every day. Mark my words: Sergio Ramos is going to be at Real Madrid for many years to come.
Fingers crossed better form highlight those "many years."
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