Thibaut Courtois had a big part to play as Real Madrid rescued a point at Valencia on Sunday night.
After Carles Soler had put the hosts ahead at the Mestalla in the 78th minute, the Madrid keeper was sent forward for a corner kick deep into stoppage time.
The towering Belgian managed to get a strong header to the delivery and following a save from Jaume Domenech, Karim Benzema pounced on the loose ball to draw his side level.
The 1-1 result means Madrid go level with Barcelona at the top of La Liga ahead of the meeting between the two sides on Wednesday.
Following Barcelona’s draw at Real Sociedad on Saturday, Madrid were presented with the opportunity to go above the Catalans ahead of El Clasico. However, that was never going to be an easy ask.
Madrid have only won one of their last five games against Los Ches who beat them in their last meeting at Mestalla in April. Albert Celades’ side also came into this encounter in high spirits after a 1-0 win at Ajax that secured their spot in the Champions League knockouts.
A formidable defensive display from the home team made life difficult for Madrid who were missing key attacking players with Eden Hazard injured and Gareth Bale only able to start from the bench.
Given the circumstances, their recent record against Valencia and the form of their opponents of late, victory was never going to be straightforward and though they dominated aspects of the game, Madrid should be relatively satisfied with the draw.
Thibaut Courtois was so close to scoring Real Madrid's 95th-minute equaliser... before Karim Benzema did 😂 pic.twitter.com/4D1pNe0C7k— B/R Football (@brfootball) December 15, 2019
This game had all the makings of a slow burner and that’s precisely what it proved to be. With the huge incentive of leapfrogging Barca on offer, Madrid’s approach was tentative which played nicely into Valencia’s plans.
Though the visitors started the brighter of the two sides, they were faced with a stubborn, deep-lying defence and ran out of ideas quickly. Valencia upped the ante after the break though, seemingly taking their guests by surprise. Still, that spell of pressure was short-lived and the match retreated to its cagey theme.
A crucial aerial duel ignited the encounter in the 78th minute though when Nacho lost his header and Soler eventually slotted home.
With Gareth Bale and Vinicius Junior already brought on, Luka Jovic was added to the mix. But it was Courtois who made the key contribution.
His header in the dying seconds from a corner forced a save from his opposite number which resulted in a goal-mouth melee. When the ball eventually found it’s way to Bezema’s feet, the striker made no mistake and salvaged a point in dramatic fashion.
VALVERDE MAKES HIS CASE
Casemiro was absent from the starting line-up as a yellow card at the Mestalla would’ve ruled him out of El Clasico on Wednesday. However, while the Brazilian’s absence will be raised as a contributing factor to this draw, that theory holds little weight in actuality.
For one, the defensive midfielder would hardly have aided Madrid in breaching the low block that Valencia employed. More pertinently, defensive cover was not what Los Blancos lacked thanks to Federico Valverde’s exceptional job in the role of midfield anchor.
His positioning was impeccable while he recovered the ball seven times in the first half alone. The 21-year-old was also composed on the ball and ended with a pass accuracy of 95 per cent having made 80 passes – second only to Kroos with 108.
Casemiro remains a key figure for Madrid but it bodes well for the capital side that in Valverde they boast a young option capable of stepping into his shoes seamlessly.
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