Real Madrid kept pace with leaders Barcelona after an exciting, albeit costly, win at Valencia Saturday night. Missing two stars in the middle of the pitch, Los Blancos were able to rebound from two Valencia equalizers to earn three points from Los Che; however, center-back and arguably the only consistent member of Real’s often maligned defensive line, Pepe, was carried off before the half with an injury that will most likely have the Portuguese international sidelined for the rest of the season. Until Pepe’s diagnosis it was unclear if Real would enter the transfer market to try and improve upon their erratic defensive play but now, there is no doubt. Madrid will be purchasing someone to fill the void left Saturday night; the only question that remains is who that player will be.
Injury news aside, the win at the Mestalla was a very positive one for the Madrileños. Ronaldo and Kaka, who were absent due to suspension and injury respectively, were watching as a complete Madrid won on the road against fierce rival and fourth place Valencia. Since the 2000 Champions League final (the only time is history that two Spanish sides played to determine the winner of Europe), when Real Madrid defeated the Valencianos 3-0, there has been an air of tension between the two clubs.
After a first half which saw the home side with numerous scoring opportunities, Gonzalo Higuian would be the first to score, putting the visitors in the lead after heading home a Karim Benzema cross. No more than five minutes later, David Villa would equalize, heading a Mathieu cross past Casillas. Higuain would be on target again in the 65th minute, reestablishing the visitor’s lead but ten minutes from time, Madrid would concede to Joaquin, again putting Valencia on terms with Madrid. The atmosphere at the Mestalla was vivacious, it appeared the home side was going to steal a point from the Galacticos; nonetheless, Ezequiel Garay would quickly silence them, heading home the winner only three minutes later. Madrid would remain five points from the top of the table with a game in hand.
The win at Valencia was important for a few reasons. Los Blancos turned in another solid performance, playing good football from the start until the final whistle. Although the Valencianos had multiple opportunities early, Madrid did not concede an early lead. It was the first significant La Liga win as well for Real. Losses at Sevilla and Barcelona were seen as their first two tests, failing both. Real’s form has increased drastically since the return of Cristiano Ronaldo but the performance the Spanish giants turned out on Saturday in the absence of the Portuguese international was encouraging for the rest of the team. He may be, arguably, the best in the world, but he is not the whole team. Real Madrid showed yet again they can win without him. Pepe’s injury will hurt the squad; he is the best defender on a slightly above average, at best, defensive line. How his role is replaced could have huge implications on the outcome of the remainder of Real Madrid’s season. Pepe’s speed in the back allows for the defender to compensate for the mistakes of his teammates, there is no doubt he will be missed. On a positive note, the last time Real Madrid won at the Mestalla they would be crowned league champions. There is a lot of football left to be played, Madrid may not be in the most ideal of scenarios but the acquisition of trophies is still within reach both domestically and abroad.