Real Madrid responded to elimination from the Copa del Rey in midweek with a solid victory at third-placed Valencia. With 15 minutes on the scoreboard, Martin Montoya felled Cristiano Ronaldo in the box following a crisp counterattack. Ronaldo scored the penalty and had the opportunity to dispatch another shortly before half-time. Montoya was the culprit again, this time barging into Karim Benzema. Santi Mina clawed Valencia back in to the match with a header from Dani Parejo’s corner just before the hour-mark. Madrid absorbed the pressure after that before Marcelo and Toni Kroos applied a layer of gloss to the result.
Madrid have been slack in the second half of matches this season — they would be top of the league based on first-half performances alone. Zinedine Zidane’s side broke this habit at Mestalla. Madrid survived pressure from Valencia and then killed the game in the second period.
Individual errors from Valencia — the altruistic Montoya in particular — gift-wrapped a two-goal lead for Madrid. Valencia occupy a Champions League place, but few sides have played against Madrid in such an acquiescent way.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Injury to Isco left Zidane with limited room for manoeuvre in his team selection. Zidane’s decision to leave Ronaldo and Benzema in attack together invited pressure from Valencia, given that neither player is particularly energetic when it comes to defending from the front. He encouraged Kroos to play slightly further forward than usual, which worked very well.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 — Dived to his right, checked back, and kept Parejo’s shot out with his foot at a crucial point in the second half when Valencia were dominant and could have levelled the score. Zidane acknowledged that “Keylor saved us,” as the Costa Rican delivered another reminder to Florentino Perez that the goalkeeping position is in safe hands.
DF Dani Carvajal, 5 — A quiet performance lacking in the right-flank gallivanting that usually defines his game. Outshone by Marcelo on the other flank.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 — Defended doggedly, particularly when Valencia sniffed an equaliser in the second half. Varane did not make a single interception. That reflects that he is a reactionary defender, who uses his physicality to respond to the opposition, rather than a defender who reads the game and extinguishes danger before it develops.
DF Nacho, 5 — Outmuscled by Mina for Valencia’s goal; his second lapse in as many matches.
DF Marcelo, 8 — Clever pass to Gareth Bale in the lead up to Ronaldo winning the first penalty. The third goal, a brilliant piece of attacking full-back play, started and ended with Marcelo. He has now scored in 23 La Liga matches and Madrid have won all 23 of them. The Marcelo of last season is threatening to splutter back to life.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — Benefitted from the fact that Francis Coquelin played in defence for Valencia. That meant Valencia lacked bite in midfield and Modric had space to control the tempo with Kroos.
MF Casemiro, 6 — Mestalla bayed for a penalty when Parejo flopped to the ground after a brush with Casemiro. He survived the appeals, but did not look commanding in his role patrolling the space in front of the defence.
MF Toni Kroos, 9 — Exquisite, outside-of-the-boot pass created an excellent chance for Ronaldo after 27 minutes. Willing to maraud forward from his spot on the left of the midfield, while also helping Marcelo to contain Guedes. Caressed the ball as if applying watercolour to canvas to score the late goal that his performance deserved.
FW Gareth Bale, 5 — Failed to punish Valencia with a sliced volley after Neto and Ezequiel Garay collided in the opening stages. Booked for making the universal “you need to wear glasses” sign at the officials, which suggested he was becoming frustrated as the match continued. Pass success rate of 60 percent was significantly below any other outfield player.
FW Karim Benzema, 6 — Won Madrid’s second penalty by positioning his body intelligently to invite contact from Montoya, and created the first one with a delicate, cushioned pass. Faded drastically in the second half and it was surprising that he remained on the pitch until the 78th minute.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 — Scored the 100th penalty of his professional career, coaxing Neto to the left and stroking the penalty the other way. He scored his 101st penalty with equal precision. His contribution in open play was limited, but that is the player he has become.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 — Added energy after coming on for Bale with a little over 20 minutes remaining.
FW Marco Asensio, NR — Combined beautifully with Marcelo to create Madrid’s third goal.
MF Mateo Kovacic, NR — Replaced Modric with a couple of minutes remaining. Still had time to flick the ball into Kroos’ path for the fourth goal.
Matt McGinn is ESPN FC’s Real Madrid blogger. Twitter: @McGinn93