Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema rescued Real Madrid from a Mestalla deep hole as they stunned Valencia 2-1 after a quick-fire late double strike.
Carlo Ancelotti’s visitors were second best for the first 80 minutes of the game and trailed to Hugo Duro’s elegant finish, as former Getafe coach Jose Bordalas looked set to take his Valencia team top of the table.
A long unbeaten streak in LaLiga looked sure to end, but Vinicius struck a deflected leveller in the 86th minute and Benzema grabbed the winner two minutes later, silencing the home crowd as the ball went in off his shoulder.
The capital giants had won just one of their previous seven league games at Mestalla (D2 L4), but a never-say-die attitude has served them well in recent times, and it paid off once again.
Valencia suffered a big blow when their captain and key midfielder Carlos Soler limped off in the 14th minute. Soler scored a hat-trick of penalties in this fixture last season as Valencia claimed a 4-1 win.
Still, the hosts did not let it trouble them and were soon on the front foot. Maxi Gomez wanted a penalty in the 28th minute when he tumbled under David Alaba’s challenge after getting behind the Madrid backline, but referee Pablo Gonzalez Fuertes scoffed at the idea.
However, Valencia kept coming, and Thibaut Courtois was alert to push away Gabriel Paulista’s header as the former Arsenal defender met a free-kick from Daniel Wass on the edge of the six-yard box shortly before half-time.
Goncalo Guedes should have put Valencia ahead in the 50th minute but shot a yard too high after Yunus Musah showed quick feet on the right flank and played the perfect cut-back.
The breakthrough Valencia deserved came in the 66th minute when Duro found the bottom right corner with a terrific left-footed finish across goal, after a deep cross reached him beyond the far post.
Benzema was thwarted by home goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili as Madrid sought a route back into the game, and it eventually came when the France forward teed up Vinicius for a shot that found the bottom left corner via a hefty nick off Dimitri Foulquier.
It was the same Madrid combination that left Valencia deflated again two minutes later, with a cross from the left by Vinicius finding predator Benzema to deflect the ball in from close range.
What does it mean? Where have we seen this before?
Such Houdini acts felt like a hallmark of Real Madrid during Zinedine Zidane’s reign, albeit they could not prevent Atletico snatching last season’s title. Just as Ancelotti looked set to suffer his first defeat, so Los Blancos left it late to make a difference again.
Benzema’s fifth attempt of the game won it, but again Vinicius had a telling role. His cross was one of high quality, and it was a third chance of the game created by the young Brazilian, second only to Eden Hazard’s tally of six for the visitors.
Mixed night ends in glory for Benzema
Benzema has often carried this Madrid team and he entered Sunday’s game with a strong career record against Valencia, scoring 10 LaLiga goals, only netting more in his career against Granada (14) and Athletic Bilbao (13). Make that 11 now, but it looked set to be an evening that ended in frustration as his finishing lacked some of its familiar fizz.
When the winner came, off his shoulder as he looked to put a head on the ball, it felt like one he had perhaps earned for persistence, although Valencia would not see it that way. It means he has scored at least one goal in each of his last six games against Los Che.
Maxi Gomez – was it a dive?
When Gomez raced behind the Madrid defence in the first half, he looked odds-on to score, yet he crashed to the turf in the penalty area, demanding a spot-kick. But the referee had a decent view and saw nothing wrong with Alaba’s challenge.
So, was it play-acting? And if so, what a high-risk strategy that is to employ, to try to tease a penalty and a red card for Alaba out of the situation. Gomez might protest his innocence, but the VAR ruled in Madrid’s favour. It was the best chance he had – he took two shots and put neither on target – and it went squandered.
Midweek games are coming as Madrid tackle Real Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday. On the same evening, Valencia have an attractive-looking away game at Sevilla.
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