Real Madrid blew their chance to establish a four-point lead over Barcelona in the La Liga title race last night.
Zinedine Zidane took his team, which had won its past four matches, to Valencia for what looked like a straightforward match. Valencia were 15th in the table before Wednesday’s game and dangerously close to the relegation places.
But goals from West Ham flop Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana gave Los Che a 2-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes and Madrid couldn’t find an equaliser after Cristiano Ronaldo got them back into the game with a header just before the interval.
It’s hardly panic stations at the Santiago Bernabeu just yet. Los Blancos still hold a one-point lead over Barca, who are out of sorts at the minute, and they have one more game in hand.
And the return of Gareth Bale is huge for Madrid as they look to win the title for the first time since 2012.
Zidane lamented his team’s slow start for their first defeat in seven matches.
Zidane: We were very open
"The truth is we lost the game in the first 10 minutes," the Frenchman said, via ESPN FC.
"We started well with the ball, playing football, had a chance to score. But we made mistakes at the back, they had players between the lines all the time, and they scored two goals. We were very open, and they punished us.
"Then we had 80 minutes to come back into the game. We had chances to do that, but we lacked many things today. There was a chance to pick up points, which we did not do."
"We did not do badly with the ball, on the contrary, we did well. Maybe we lacked a bit of cleverness in the final pass, but that's it. They defended very deep, together, were better than us in the air, and that's that."
Cristiano's demand in the last minute
Madrid pushed in search for a winner right up until the last second. Indeed, when they won a corner in the final minute, Cristiano Ronaldo turned towards Keylor Navas and demanded the ‘keeper sprint the length of the pitch and into Valencia’s area for the set piece.
Check out the video below.
It proved worthless - Valencia cleared the danger before the referee blew for full-time - but you can see the desperation in Ronaldo’s gesture.
Title race is hotting up
Madrid have been the best team in Spain for the entire season but last night’s result shows winning the title requires something more than simply being good.
Los Blancos need to grind out results when they don’t play so well, as Barcelona did against Leganes last weekend.
The task doesn’t get much easier for Zidane’s side, who travel to sixth-placed Villarreal on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital.
The title race is set for more twists and turns.