Valladolid a test again but Real prevails

Posted by Rob Train

Spectators expecting a low-key affair at the Bernabeu on Saturday night will have been left pleasantly surprised by the feast of goals that unfolded between the home side and Valladolid. The precedent had been set in the return match earlier in the season when Valladolid gave Real a torrid evening in the Nuevo Zorrilla, forcing Jose Mourinho into a defensive reshuffle that took in four formations in half of a half.

- Ronaldo scores two in Real's win
- Mourinho still undecided about future

On this occasion, as then, it was Valladolid that took the initiative as the visiting side elected to go toe-to-toe with Real. Miroslav Djukic's team plays some decent stuff and certainly came out firing in the Bernabeu. Mourinho fielded a strong side but is still shorn of habitual right back Alvaro Arbeloa, prompting the visitors to focus their efforts on the right side of Real's defense in the early exchanges.

But despite the logic of targeting the inexperienced Nacho, Angel di Maria was to prove influential for the second time in as many games, and Valladolid's former Bundesliga imports, Antonio Rukavina and Patrick Ebert, were to cause Real as many problems as Dortmund had in a game carrying slightly more gravitas midweek.

The players from the German footballing powerhouses of 1860 Munich and Hertha Berlin are clearly bound for greener pastures next season. Ebert, signed on a free transfer, has apparently already agreed terms with Atletico. Rukavina, a Serbian international, will doubtless be the object of a bid or two in the close season.

But it was Oscar Gonzalez who opened the scoring after a woeful passage of play by the home side. Di Maria, otherwise excellent, played a cross-field pass in his own half that the former Zaragoza and Olympiacos player was quicker to than Ricardo Carvalho, who would struggle at the moment to beat an egg. Diego Lopez could do little about the Valladolid man's neat finish.

Real may lack the motivation that a title tilt would present, but there are players fighting not just for the team but also for their own futures, wherever they may lie. Di Maria, linked with a host of Premier League clubs, is one. Kaka, trying to force his way into the reckoning for the Confederations Cup this year and beyond, is another. Both had largely excellent games, the Brazilian showing a deft touch in the second half that was only halted with a foul and providing Real's first shot on goal on the 25-minute mark. Kaka's drive may have warmed Jaime's hands in the Valladolid goal but it was the number 8's intervention that proved key to Real's equalizer. When adding a potentially clinical touch himself might have been tempting, Kaka shielded Marc Valiente's sight line until the optimum moment, deftly sidestepping Di Maria's shot to leave the unfortunate defender primed to guide it past Jaime, who had the original angle covered.

Di Maria is making a habit of finding the net indirectly but his pinpoint cross to provide Real's second was worthy of any winger in the game. Cristiano Ronaldo was the grateful recipient, rising yet again to hit the net with an aspect of his game that is becoming more deadly by the week. Ronaldo is arguably the most athletic player in the game and Real's fourth -- and it proved decisive -- goal again came from a Jordanesque leap and well-guided glance.

In between, Valladolid really put the wind up the host. With Nacho and Carvalho in the back line, Real was susceptible to Valladolid's swift movement into space and Oscar turned provider when he glided a glorious ball to Omar on the left, who duly thumped it back across goal for Javi Guerra to poke home an equalizer. Karim Benzema had a goal disallowed for offside moments later, although replays showed the Frenchman to be in a legal position (pun intended).

Ronaldo's double leaves the Portuguese goal machine one short of 200 for Real, but it could easily have been a hat-trick when a rasping free-kick rattled the bar at the end of the first half.

The second half was to prove not quite as entertaining, despite a late flurry from the visitor. Kaka restored Real's lead after the restart with a fine drive and when Ronaldo added his second the game appeared to be out of reach of Djukic's side. But Valladolid saved the best for last. The excellent Guerra had made way for Manucho, the scourge of Madrid in Zorrilla, who provided some comedy when pointing out to the fourth official that his colossal frame would not permit his shirt to be tucked into his shorts in line with the sanitized dress code of the modern game.

But it was the man with the inexcusable leggings -- it is May after all -- who saved Real late on. First, the Real number 1 (can we call him that now) reacted well to pull off a stunning double save and then prevented a cheeky Oscar lob from finding the net. But Lopez could do nothing when Lluis Sastre latched on to a loose ball to crack home a goal of the season contender five minutes from time. Not a bad way to open his account for the season. The Spanish television cameras could not resist panning to Iker Casillas on Real's bench, but the media-savvy Spain keeper deadpanned his own reaction to Lopez's despairing dive.

Much has been written about Real's season being over bar the cup final, but the traveling support cheered its team from the field as if it had won. Other than Mourinho, who cut an impassive figure in the dugout all evening, the home crowd enjoyed the win as well, however irrelevant it is destined to be.

Across stadiums in Britain every week when a team is being thumped the chant of "can we play you every week" resounds. It would have been fitting for a feast of football between two sides that seem to bring out the best in each other.

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