Real Madrid crashed out of the Copa del Rey and remains in rough shape in La Liga, increasing the pressure during its trip to Valencia.

By 90Min
January 26, 2018

What a difference half a week makes. One Saturday, Real Madrid were finally celebrating their timely return to return to form with a resounding, no holds barred, 7-1 battering of Deportivo; and by Wednesday their erstwhile crisis had reached a new low, with a 2-1 loss to Leganes at home ending their journey in the Copa Del Rey.

With this incredulous exit from Spain's infamous domestic cup competition, Real's manager (at least for now) Zinedine Zidane, conceded his side's only remaining chance of ascertaining silverware was in the Champions League.

While this admission has effectively prematurely handed the title over to Barcelona - although their opponents on Saturday may have something to say about that - the upcoming clash retains all of its importance.

Despite the unlikely five point buffer between them in third and their opponents in fourth, Valencia are going through a bit of a rough patch themselves.

They lost their last league game to lowly Las Palmas, and only managed to scrape through their Copa Del Rey quarterfinal tie with Alaves, eventually triumphing after penalties.

For both sides, curtailing a downward spiral is imperative. Zidane cannot succumb to the same fate his side fell to upon their last visit to the Mestalla. While his future nominally rides on success in Europe, another 2-1 loss here would almost certainly put that into disrepute.


Classic Encounter

Historically, Valencia have persistently provided stiff opposition for Real Madrid, collecting 49 wins and 38 draws in the 183 times the pair have lined up against each other across competitions.

Indeed, 38 of these wins for Valencia have come at the Mestalla, and of stadiums in Spain they have played at on more than 10 occasions, Valencia's veritable cauldron is only second to the Nou Camp in terms of Real Madrid's lowest win percentages, according to Transfermarkt.

However, the pairs memorable tussle in 2011 was an altogether more happy memory for Los Blancos, although still typified the fight Valencia have always shown them.

Madrid started the game in imperious form, with goals from Benzema, Higuain (two) and Kaka before the end of the first half supposedly ending the game as a contest. Soon after the start of the second half it was five, with the Argentinian completing his hat trick in the 53rd minute.

Roberto Soldado temporarily gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the 60th minute with a goal of his own, before Kaka netted his second of the game just two minutes later to further silence the Mestalla.

However, the match was not yet done, and scores from Jonas in the 81st minute and Jordi Alba in 85th were enough to give Madrid a momentary fright, before the tumultuous game finally ended 6-3 to the visitors.


Key Battle

Gonçalo Guedes vs. Dani Carvajal

The 21-year-old Benfica academy graduate, on loan from PSG, has been a revelation this season. Having registered five goals and seven assists in his 22 appearances for Els Taronges, and showing increasing maturity, the club will praying the plethora of talent at PSG's disposal will be enough for the Parisians to overlook Guedes burgeoning talent.

His direct opponent on Saturday, Carvajal, has had a troublesome season, interspersed by high profile suspensions. 

His deliberate hand ball in El Clasico ostensibly ended the game as a contest, and his apparent intentional booking in the Champions League has ruled him out of next month's colossal tie with PSG.

Gareth Bale vs. Jose Gaya

The Welsh winger's battle with the precocious Spanish left-back Gaya could go a long way to determining this intriguing encounter. Notwithstanding Madrid's current 'crisis', Bale's form since his return from injury has been tremendous.

With four goals in his last four league games, the 22-year-old Spaniard will have his work cut out in keeping his 28-year-old opponent quiet.


Team News

Despite only returning from injury on Wednesday night, club talisman Sergio Ramos is expected to start, considering the importance of the fixture.

However, Madrid's Spanish youngster Dani Ceballos will remain absent with the ankle injury he sustained last weekend, while center back Jesus Vallejo is also sidelined until the end of February with a hamstring issue.

Valencia will be without former Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista after he collected his fifth yellow of the season against Las Palmas, while his defensive partner Ruben Vezo is also suspended following his red card in the same game.

Long-term absentees Jeison Murillo and Carlos Soler are still out indefinitely.


Potential Real Madrid Starting Lineup: Navas; Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Carvajal; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale

Potential Valencia Starting Lineup: Neto; Gaya, Garay, Coquelin, Montoya; Guedes, Kondogbia, Parejo, Maksimovic; Rodrigo, Zaza


Prediction

Despite Real's indisputable struggles this season, Valencia's central defensive crisis, as well as their extra-time exertions midweek, may prove too much for the third placed side to contend with. 

While predicting which Madrid side will turn up this season has been a fools errand, their creative firepower in the face of such a dearth of defensive options should be enough to earn them a win. 

Prediction: Valencia 2-4 Real Madrid 

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