Real ease past Valencia with stellar 8/10 play from Kroos, Casemiro
Alejandro Moreno says Luka Modric is back to top form for the first time since the 2018 World Cup. (0:43)
Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos scored as Real Madrid beat Valencia 2-0 on Sunday to keep the pressure on Atletico Madrid at the top of the La Liga table.
It was a comfortable victory, with the three points secured in a first half that saw Valencia fail to register a single effort on goal. Casemiro had already had a long-range shot saved by Jaume Domenech when Benzema beat the goalkeeper with a low, curling effort from the left.
Dani Carvajal limped off injured with 25 minutes gone, but Madrid continued to dominate and Kroos doubled their lead, shooting into the bottom corner from substitute Lucas Vazquez's pull back. The second half saw Thibaut Courtois called into action for the first time, saving Maxi Gomez's powerful shot, while Ferland Mendy had a smart finish ruled out for offside.
This was a straightforward win for Madrid against a Valencia team who recently completed their worst-ever first half of a season since the introduction of three points for a win. That half a season did include a 4-1 win over Madrid at Mestalla in November, though, so this was a satisfying result on an afternoon when once again only a win would do after Atletico's victory yesterday.
Madrid's greatest strength is their midfield, and this was another afternoon when Casemiro, Luka Modric and Kroos were far, far superior to anything that Valencia had to offer. All three have arguably played some of their best football this season, even when the team as a whole hasn't clicked.
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Carvajal's injury record is becoming a major concern for Real Madrid this year. When fit, he's one of the best full-backs around, but he's missed more than three months of football this campaign, and that's before knowing the extent of this latest setback, which comes just before the return of the Champions League.
Madrid have alternatives at right-back -- Vazquez has performed admirably there this season when called upon, and Ferland Mendy can switch flanks -- but neither compares to a fully fit Carvajal.
7 -- Zinedine Zidane's team was impressive here, albeit helped out by a sub-standard opponent. The coach's selection options are still limited, with seven players (Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard, Fede Valverde, Marcelo, Rodrygo, Eder Militao and Alvaro Odriozola) absent. The first XI remains strong, though, and it's only on a bench filled with youngsters where the weakness starts to show.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Not troubled once in the first half by a Valencia team that didn't muster a single shot. Did really well, then, to save spectacularly from Gomez after the break.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 -- Back after six weeks out with a hamstring injury and only lasted 25 minutes before limping off again.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 -- Caught by Goncalo Guedes in the first half, who was booked. Didn't need to be at his best here.
DF Nacho, 6 -- Looked like he might have picked up an injury in the first half, but recovered to put in a solid performance against a toothless Valencia attack.
DF Ferland Mendy, 7 -- Had plenty of space to get forward on the left and looked keen to exploit it. Did really well to put away his second-half chance, only to be denied by the offside flag. Could have scored again when played in by Benzema.
MF Casemiro, 8 -- Arguably Real Madrid's most influential player week in, week out. Almost caught out Jaume with an early shot. Otherwise had a tidy game.
MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- Back from his midweek ban against Getafe with a goal -- his first in 2021 -- and an assist. The finish for the goal was Kroos at his best: he made it look easy and effortless, even if it wasn't.
MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Busy. Had a first-half shot blocked, set up Benzema for a near-post chance, and then had another effort saved in the opening 45 minutes. A delightful second-half through ball for Benzema, too.
FW Marco Asensio, 7 - His willingness to run at defences is so important in a team that sometimes struggles to open up opponents. Did well, without excelling.
FW Vinicius Junior, 7 -- Kept his place despite Vazquez being available in a show of faith from Zidane. Still looks short of confidence and lacking spark, but would have had an assist if Mendy's heel hadn't been offside.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Loves scoring against Valencia, with six goals in his last five games against them now. Shook off a first-minute ankle injury to net the opener and had a number of other chances, looking a constant threat.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 7 -- Replaced Carvajal after his injury relapse, having only just recovered from injury himself. Set up Kroos for his goal and played well overall.
FW Sergio Arribas, NR -- Played the last 20 minutes, coming on for Asensio, and once again the youngster looked comfortable.
MF Isco, NR -- Brought on for Modric and was quiet.
FW Mariano Diaz, NR -- Came on for Benzema with 10 minutes left.