Champions Barcelona moved back to the top of La Liga after Gerard Pique’s first-half header and Carles Alena’s fine finish earned a 2-0 win against struggling Villarreal.
A number of football’s grandest names populated the home side at Camp Nou. But plenty of pre-match attention was centered on the Yellow Submarine’s Samuel Chukwueze.
Here, we analyse the performance of the teenage winger.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 1
Touches – 45
Passes – 26
Key passes – 1
Dribbles – 5
Dispossessed – 3
Barca were expected to get back to winning ways domestically against opponents who sit just one place outside the drop zone.
This prediction quickly came to fruition at Camp Nou. Pique rose highest to nod in erratic France winger Ousmane Dembele’s stab into the penalty box – at the second time of asking – on 36 minutes.
Other chances came and went through Lionel Messi, prior to the Argentina icon turning provider with a spellbinding slide-rule pass to send midfielder Alena through to delicately chip in his first Barca goal on 87 minutes.
#BarçaVillarreal | 2-0 🚨 FINAL | El #Villarreal cae en el Camp Nou. El Submarino dio la cara ante el @FCBarcelona_es en un competido encuentro en el que los amarillos no lograron materializar las oportunidades. pic.twitter.com/Pkn0GC5Jfv— Villarreal CF (@VillarrealCF) December 2, 2018
Show no fear – Chukwueze only began playing for Villarreal’s first team this season. This rapid rise put him on a collision course with left-back Jordi Alba – potentially La Liga’s player of the season to date.
Straight from the off, the fresh Nigeria cap had little regard for reputations. In just the second minute, he danced past several Barca challengers and put in a threatening cross.
His five dribbles was three more than any team-mate. It also pegged back Alba, meaning he could only ping in two crosses and make no dribbles of his own.
Don’t make it so obvious – When Chukwueze picks up the ball and drives at the defence, his eventual destination is already known.
The 18-year-old is determined to drive inside from the right flank and ping in a cross or shot with his heavily favoured left boot – already, he has two goals in eight first-team run-outs. It’s no wonder that comparisons are already being drawn to Netherlands great Arjen Robben.
This does make him predictable, however. Chukwueze was dispossessed three times – Villarreal’s joint-second most.
Also, none of his crosses found a team-mate. This could the fact his staccato cuts back mean defences get an extra second to reshape after his searing pace forces a gap.
2nd min CHANCE: Chukwueze does excellently to wriggle into space. His low cross is gobbled up by Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
14th min CHANCE: It’s the same again from Chukwueze, whose combination of speed and skill earns space to centre out wide. This cross is repelled to safety by the scrambling Barca defence.
18th min FOULED: French centre-back Clement Lenglet’s high boot floors Chukwueze and he is booked.
50th min CHANCE: It takes a smart interception from Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic to stop Chukwueze’s low cross from finding a Villarreal player.
68th min FOULED: Chile hard man Arturo Vidal flattens Chukwueze as he moves inside. Veteran midfielder Santi Cazorla’s free-kick drifts over.
There was more than enough from Chukwueze in Catalonia to show this is a talent worth watching.
Opponents with grander reputations have caused far less worry for the peerless Alba.
If he can work out how to effectually use his right boot, Chukwueze will become a double threat. Although, it’s absence has not, exactly, hindered Robben…
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
After gaining a much-needed Champions League victory at Roma in midweek, Real Madrid will seek to build more momentum in an enticing La Liga match-up with fast-improving Valencia at the Bernabeu on Saturday night.
The visitors will overtake Real in the table if they come away with three points, and the positivity injected by the midweek success in Italy will quickly evaporate if it is followed by another disappointing league result.
Let’s take a look at three burning issues ahead of the contest.
ISCO IN OR OUT?
One name has dominated Real Madrid’s headlines in the last few days: Isco.
The Spain international was left out of the squad for the midweek victory at Roma, and reports have since emerged that he was omitted as a disciplinary measure after refusing to shake manager Santi Solari’s hand following last weekend’s loss at Eibar, where he was also discarded.
Solari refused to discuss the supposed rift during his pre-game press conference on Friday, insisting he regards the matter closed. The best way for him to prove that is true would be selecting Isco in his starting line-up for the first time since he took charge a month ago – anything less would only serve to encourage further speculation about the midfielder’s future.
Finding a space for Isco, however, will not be straightforward. Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale were arguably Real’s best two players in midweek, both getting onto the scoresheet, and Marco Asensio also impressed after coming on as a late substitute.
And in such an important game for his side, Solari will be reluctant to make changes unless he truly believes in the player he is selecting – and at the moment, his faith in Isco appears to be very low.
CAN REAL CUT OUT THE ERRORS?
Although they came away from the trip to Rome with a morale-boosting win, there were still question marks against Real’s performance – especially after a first half which saw the Italian team squander several great chances to score, including a once-in-a-lifetime open goal miss by Cengiz Under.
That incredible let-off came about through something which has dogged Real throughout the season: a sloppy defensive error. On this occasion the guilty party was right-back Dani Carvajal, who tried to play his way out of trouble with a fancy back-heel but only succeeded in gifting possession to Roma.
A similar mistake was committed by fellow full-back Alvaro Odriozola in last week’s league loss at Eibar, and there have been several more instances of mental errors causing opposition goals throughout the season, with Raphael Varane particularly culpable.
Against a dangerous team like Valencia, Solari’s men cannot afford similar lapses. And after conceding 12 goals in their last five league games, Real desperately need to focus on tightening up at the back if they want to reignite their title challenge.
VALENCIA COMING INTO FORM?
After a frustrating start to the season, Valencia are slowly coming into form and starting to live up to their pre-season billing as one of the strongest teams in La Liga.
The performances delivered this term by Marcelino’s men have never been disastrous, as they spent the early stages of the campaign looking like a good team desperately trying to burst through mediocrity. At one point they went through a bizarre run of seven draws in eight games – all of which finished either 0-0 or 1-1 – to show they weren’t bad enough to lose, but neither were they quite good enough to win.
In the last couple of weeks, though, there have been signs of the minor improvements needed, especially in front of goal, to get Valencia’s season well and truly back on track. They scored three apiece in victories over Young Boys in the Champions League and Real Valladolid in La Liga, with Santi Mina netting twice in both games, as well as earning a scrappy 1-0 victory at Getafe.
Valencia are now just three points behind Real, having lost just twice in La Liga all season. Only 20 goals have been scored in their 13 league games so far (11 for and 9 against) so it will probably be low scoring – and it certainly won’t be easy for Real.
Although the game is always a keenly contested battle given the traditional rivalry between both clubs and their respective cities, fans and players have also savoured moments to bring them together. Here are five talking points ahead of the big clash between the two sides this Saturday.
Marcelino’s record against Real Madrid
Current Valencia coach Marcelino famously won his first game against Real Madrid as a manager, guiding then top-flight side Recreativo Huelva to a 3-0 victory at the Bernabeu in December 2006.
His record against Los Blancos since has not been as impressive, with just one more win in 14 further meetings with five different La Liga teams: Recreativo, Racing Santander, Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia.
Last season’s 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu was a positive result for Los Che, however, and most visiting fans would not complain if their team puts in a similar performance this time around.
Santiago Solari looking to continue positive run
Real Madrid’s new full-time coach Santi Solari had a decent record against Valencia as a player and will now be hoping to keep that run going as boss.
Solari lost his first two games against Los Che for his first La Liga team as a player, Atletico Madrid. But once he moved to the Bernabeu in 2000 that record improved, going on to win four and draw one of seven top-flight meetings, as well as knocking them out of the Copa del Rey in 2004.
This will now be the 42-year old’s first meeting with Valencia as a manager; the regional structure of Spain’s lower divisions meant he did not face them in past roles coaching Madrid’s youth teams and Castilla reserve side.
Players who have worn both jerseys
Many players have donned the famous white shirts of both sides over the years, going back as far as 1930s Spain international Simon Lecue who won the 1936 Copa del Rey with Madrid and 1943/44 La Liga title with Valencia.
Players to have lifted the La Liga trophy with one or both teams include Quique Sanchez Flores (who moved from Valencia to Madrid in 1994) – and is today better known for his successful managerial stints with Valencia and Atletico – Predrag Mijatovic (Valencia to Madrid in 1996) and Santi Canizares, who went the other way in 1998.
Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano is one of the few men to have also coached both sides, following up his eight La Liga trophies at the Bernabeu by winning the 1970/71 title in his first season in the dugout at the Mestalla.
Valencia’s Madrid connection
The player connection between the two clubs has always been strong and Valencia captain Dani Parejo, defender Ezequiel Garay and winger Denis Cheryshev will all have to be careful to choose the right dressing room on Saturday evening.
Midfield general Parejo was born in the Spanish capital and came through Madrid’s youth ranks, making his La Liga debut in a 4-0 victory at Sporting Gijon in September 2009, a game in which current Los Blancos left-back Marcelo scored. Parejo then spent time at English club QPR and Getafe before joining Valencia in 2011.
Garay played 25 league games for Madrid between 2009 and 2011, often regularly partnering current Madrid captain Sergio Ramos in defence. The Argentina international even scored against Valencia in December 2009, seven years before he joined the Mestalla outfit.
Cheryshev is another ‘La Fabrica’ graduate, who made his La Liga debut for the reigning European champions in a 1-0 victory against Granada in September 2015. The Russia international has also represented Sevilla and Villarreal during his time in Spain and has racked up a record of one win, one draw and one defeat against Madrid.
Real’s Valencia connection
Playmaker Isco joined Valencia’s youth system aged 14 in 2006 and quickly moved through the ranks as a teenager to become a big star for the club’s Valencia Mestalla youth team.
In 2010/11 he helped them to promotion with a side that included his Spanish international teammate Paco Alcacer, who is currently banging in the goals for Borussia Dortmund in Germany while on loan from Barcelona.
Isco’s senior La Liga debut came in November 2010 at the age of just 18 when he came off the bench in a 2-0 win over Getafe.
The Andalusian had a stint at hometown club Malaga before landing at the Bernabeu in 2013.
Now 26, Isco’s fond memories of his time at Valencia have never stopped him scoring against his old club, first for Malaga in 2012/13 and then again for Real in 2014/15.