They sat third pre-game, a point ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla and level with their great Catalan rivals. They were a remarkable eight points shy of league leaders Atletico Madrid, and were hoping to develop momentum ahead of their Champions League last 16 tie with Atalanta at the end of the month.
Valencia, on the other hand, sat 12th in the league table pre-game, sandwiched between Athletic Bilbao and Getafe. They’ve suffered institutional instability throughout and before the season, but did manage to beat Madrid 4-1 back in November.
Madrid struck first blood, taking the lead in the 12th minute through French marksman Karim Benzema, who was captaining the side in the absence of Sergio Ramos. It was his 12th goal in La Liga so far this season, in his 21st appearance. Another of the old guard, Toni Kroos, doubled their lead shortly before the break.