VALENCIA, Spain – After a lopsided Champions League elimination, Real Madrid suffered their second defeat in four days on Sunday, losing 1-0 to Valencia in LaLiga’s Mestalla.
21-year-old striker Diego Lopez put Valencia ahead in the 33rd minute – his first goal for the club in his second appearance – and passed Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after a complicated team move.
Madrid tried to react in the second half when substitutes Federico Valverde and Toni Kroos were both denied by spectacular saves from goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili, and Vinicius Junior was sent off after a collision with Valencia’s Hugo Duro in added time.
1. Racist abuse against Vinicius spoiled the already tense game
The post-match discussion, already marked by incidents, will be dominated by the events of the second half at the Mestalla. The game was suspended for nearly ten minutes as an initially bizarre sequence of events took a far uglier turn when Vinicius Junior claimed he had been racially abused by a fan.
It started with Vinicius on the ball and dribbled down the left side of Real Madrid when a second ball was thrown onto the pitch from the crowd. Valencia defender Eray Comert wanted to repel the ball and – intentionally or unintentionally – did so straight at Vinicius and slapped the other ball in front of the striker’s feet. The result was a yellow card for Comert and a free-kick for Madrid, but that was not all.
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As Madrid prepared to set the ball, Vinicius animatedly pointed to a fan in the crowd behind goal. It was obvious that something had been said. After lengthy discussions with teammates and referee Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea asking if Vinicius wanted the game to be suspended, play resumed with the crowd warned against racial slurs via the stadium megaphone.
Later, in stoppage time, a mass brawl in the Valencia penalty area ended with Vinicius being sent off after hitting Valencia’s Hugo Duro. Then, on the way off the pitch, another confrontation ensued with the Valencia bench.
It will all take time, but the bottom line is that Vinicius has repeatedly received disgusting racial abuse from fans this season. LaLiga have vowed they will do their utmost to identify and punish those responsible and they must do the same again today.
2. Despite the heavily changed starting XI, Madrid continues to go downhill
Manager Carlo Ancelotti was hoping for a reaction from his players after mid-week’s Champions League defeat by Manchester City. He didn’t get one. Ancelotti made six changes to his starting XI: Ferland Mendy, Antonio Rudiger, Lucas Vazquez, Aurelien Tchouameni, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio came into the team and Dani Carvajal, David Alaba, Kroos, Luka Modric, Valverde and Rodrygo Goes were all on the bench .
However, attempts to inject some energy into the team didn’t work. Instead, it was Valencia who displayed an intensity and hunger inspired by his desire to avoid relegation. A crew fought for their survival here; The other, who finished just second ahead of rivals Atletico Madrid, for whom he plays, would prefer the season to be over already.
Individually, the stakes were high for some of these Madrid players. Tchouameni needs to find the form early in the season that made him look like a ready replacement for Casemiro. Mendy wants to reassure doubters who say he lacks the quality – and the fitness – to be an integral part of a Real Madrid side. Ceballos and Asensio should seize opportunities like this to prove they deserve to be part of Madrid’s future.
Neither of them succeeded – Tchouameni performed best – and those questions remain unanswered.
3. The Valencian kids are in the lead to break the deficit
Valencia, one of Spain’s most successful traditional clubs, are in serious danger of relegation this season for the second time in their history. This win is a big step towards safety and puts them 13th in the table with 40 points. It was also fitting that it was held to mark the 100th anniversary of their iconic Mestalla Stadium.
Valencia’s resurgence in recent weeks, when they seemed to be caught in an irreversible downward spiral, has been remarkable. They have now accumulated 13 points from a possible 18 in their last six games, including crucial victories over Elche, Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo and now Madrid.
Having her recovery guided by academy players made it even more special. Midfielder Javi Guerra, 20, scored the winner against Valladolid; Alberto Mari, 21, did the same against Celta; and 21-year-old winger Diego Lopez gave them all three points against Madrid.
Appointing club legend Ruben Baraja as manager when he took office in February seemed like a costly mistake, but giving the kids the keys to this side – and winning over the fans – has made all the difference.
Best and worst actors
Best: Giorgi Mamardashvili, Valencia
The keeper made incredible saves against Valverde and Kroos in the second half.
Best: Diego Lopez, Valencia
He scored a priceless goal that secured his team’s place in the Premier League.
Best: Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid
The goalkeeper was Madrid’s best player that night and ensured the score was 1-0.
Worst: Ferland Mendy, Real Madrid
Not convincing on his return to the team.
Worst: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Another quiet game with little risk of scoring.
Worst: Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid
Only played the first half before being withdrawn.
Highlights and notable moments
Diego Lopez’s goal puts Valencia ahead of Real Madrid
Diego Lopez slips in and scores Valencia’s opener against Real Madrid.
Vini Jr. gets his first straight red card in a row 🔴 pic.twitter.com/sD8kKQX9g8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 21, 2023
After the game: What the managers and players said
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti asked for his opinion on the game: “Do you want to talk about football? I don’t want to talk about football. I want to talk about what happened here. I think it’s more important than losing… What happened here today shouldn’t happen. That is clear.” . For a stadium to yell ‘monkey’ at a player and for a coach to think about taking a player off because of it, that’s a bad thing in this league.”
Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)
Real Madrid have now suffered four straight away defeats in all competitions, the longest such streak since September-October. 2018 (also four).
Real Madrid haven’t scored in three consecutive away games (also three) for the first time since February 2022.
With his goal for Valencia, 21-year-old Diego López scores his first goal of his senior career.
Vinícius Jr.: 2nd red card of his career (his first came in October 2018 for Real Madrid B team for two yellow cards)
Valence: Los Che Visit Mallorca in LaLiga on Thursday, May 25 (live on ESPN+ at 1:30pm ET)
Real Madrid: Los Blancos host Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday, May 24 in LaLiga (watch live at 1:30pm ET).