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.
Ferland Mendy added a third in the second half only for a VAR review to rule it offside and disallow it. Madrid have now won three out of their last five and two on the bounce, keeping pressure on Atletico and pace with Barcelona and Sevilla.
One blow to Madrid was Dani Carvajal going off injured with what looked to be a hamstring strain. He’s the latest in a series of injuries within the Madrid camp, and Zinedine Zidane, speaking post-game in comments carried by Marca, was frustrated by it.
“I don’t understand,” Zidane said. “There are a lot of injuries, I’m worried. When I lose a player, it bothers me as a coach. It’s a relapse and I’m sorry for Carva. He played 25 minutes very well and I’m upset because he’s very important to us.”
The Frenchman was quietly content with the team’s progression and development in recent weeks. “We’re going to continue and we’re not going to look at the [other teams in the title race]. I’m happy for my players and we were very good defensively. With the ball we made very good plays, especially in the first half.”