Marcelo's late heroics kept Real Madrid on course for La Liga's title, but there's no margin for error with Barcelona waiting for a slip-up.
For five minutes, the Bernabeu faithful thought that the title race might be lost after all.
Real Madrid had been 1-0 up before Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves stopped a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty–for the third time in their careers!–one which would have given the host a much-needed cushion. Instead, Dani Parejo equalized with eight minutes to go, and for a while, Real Madrid would have no further margin for error.
Then, up popped Marcelo to score a winner, and the celebrations of the whole team with him on the final whistle showed how important it was. Real Madrid has seven games with goals in the last 10 minutes this season, and with Barcelona beating Espanyol 3-0 in Saturday’s later game, it remains level on points at the top with that game in hand against Celta Vigo to come.
Marcelo has emerged as a key character in the season’s run-in. The Brazilian was named captain for the midweek 6-2 win at Deportivo de La Coruña, and earlier this month played game No. 400 for the team. No foreign player has won more than his 212 games for Real Madrid. Marcelo’s performance in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg win over Bayern Munich was outstanding, and he is one of the few players in Zinedine Zidane’s much-rotated squad that doesn’t have a direct replacement.
Zidane has earned praise for how he has kept the whole squad happy and brought out excellent performances from the likes of Isco, James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez as squad players.
“In the end we will have this until the end, suffering until the end. This means we can still improve, nothing more," said Zidane. “But this idea of A (team) or B (team), I do not look at that. I just look at all the players.”
With Gareth Bale injured again and set to miss this week’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid, Zidane has enough strength in depth to no longer worry about missing the Welshman.
As Alfredo Relano, writing in AS, put it: “Zidane copes with it all, like a juggler with 25 oranges up in the air, and if one drops, like it did the other day with Bale, well he picks it up, smiling, as if nothing had happened.”
The European derby–for a fourth straight season–is another test for Madrid, this team that has learned the habit of picking up results without always playing well. Zidane would take that again on Tuesday.