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Real Madrid win late with 8/10 Vinicius Junior heroics

Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema scored late on as Real Madrid came from a goal down to beat Valencia 2-1 at Mestalla on Sunday.

A goalless first half of few chances saw key Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler go off injured, before Madrid defender Dani Carvajal was also forced to withdraw. The best opportunity fell to the home side, as Thibaut Courtois was forced to save Gabriel Paulista’s header.

After the break, Valencia stayed on top, Courtois saving from Hugo Duro and Goncalo Guedes shooting over the bar. Duro put the hosts ahead on 65 minutes, firing low past Courtois after finding space at the far post. Madrid chased an equaliser and found it when Vinicius’ effort was deflected in, before Benzema gave them the win two minutes later, redirecting Vinicius’ cross into the net with his shoulder.

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Positives

Vinicius. He’s been a positive all season, and this strike — with a slice of good fortune about it, given the deflection — made it five goals in five LaLiga games in 2021-22. A player who was once derided for his inconsistent finishing now seemingly can’t miss. Part of that comes down to confidence, while coach Carlo Ancelotti deserves some credit too.

This was another night where Madrid were far from fluent, and frequently outplayed, but dug deep and somehow found a way to get the win. It’s been a trait often associated with them over the years, and it’s a hallmark of teams that go on to win trophies, too. If this season is to be a successful one, these three points will be remembered come its end.

Negatives

Carvajal played just 13 league games last season, his lowest ever total, thanks to an endless run of injuries. The defender was for better luck this campaign, and his departure from the pitch with 25 minutes on the clock was a real blow. Lucas Vazquez is an able deputy but there’s no doubt that when fit, Carvajal is one of the best full-backs around. He just hasn’t been available often enough lately.

Valencia created too many chances here, and Madrid could easily have lost this match if things had gone differently. There’s plenty for the team to improve on, especially in defence — although injuries and constant changes haven’t helped — but it didn’t cost them this time.

Manager rating out of 10

7 — In his 800th game as a top-level coach, Carlo Ancelotti made just one change from the team that beat Inter 1-0 on Wednesday in the Champions League. Eden Hazard came into the team for Vazquez. For much of the match this was a far from fluid Real Madrid performance, as they were frustrated by Valencia. When Madrid went behind, Ancelotti threw on Eduardo Camavinga, Rodrygo Goes, Luka Jovic and Isco, but crucially left on Vinicius and Benzema. That was the right call, as they eventually got the goals.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 — Followed a stellar display in midweek with another solid showing. One very good first-half save from Gabriel and another from Duro when he could have been caught cold after the break.

DF Dani Carvajal, 6 — Didn’t last half an hour before pulling up with an injury. Carvajal has missed far too many games in recent seasons, and Real Madrid will be hoping this latest absence is brief.

DF David Alaba, 7 — His smart positioning helped clear two dangerous first-half crosses. Growing into a leadership role at the back.

DF Eder Militao, 6 — Lost Goncalo Guedes in the first half, and was lucky that Courtois was on hand to intervene.

DF Nacho, 6 — Had a tough time up against the tricky Yunus Musah when he came on. Still looks a lesser player at full-back compared to in the middle.

MF Casemiro, 7 — Booked before half-time for sliding in on Guillemon. Gave the ball away on the edge of the box later, to give Valencia a chance. Did well in the latter stages.

MF Fede Valverde, 7 — Seems increasingly comfortable in this right-sided role, although it still feels like it won’t be his position long-term. Got forward and delivered some good crosses.

MF Luka Modric, 7 — A little below par against Inter, but was really important here. Modric will never lose his gift of receiving the ball under pressure and somehow finding a way into space.

FW Eden Hazard, 7 — Started after not getting a single Champions League minute in midweek. One clever turn to find space in the box early on.

FW Vinicius Junior, 8 — Flashes of danger before his deflected equaliser, and then grabbed an assist too. Valencia had clearly been instructed to get tight to the winger and not allow him to get up to top speed.

FW Karim Benzema, 8 — It had been quiet night for Real Madrid’s top scorer and assist provider — up against a well-organised Valencia defence — until he scored, with his shoulder, to give them a vital three points.

Substitutes

DF Lucas Vazquez, 7 — Replaced the injured Carvajal at right-back and, dependable as ever, did a decent job.

MF Eduardo Camavinga, NR — Couldn’t match his previous appearances off the bench, but did pick up a yellow card.

FW Rodrygo, NR — His 150th game as a professional, at just 20 years old, but was quiet.

FW Luka Jovic, NR — A rare outing as Madrid chased the game.

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