One midweek match would rarely justify a summary of its own, but when it is one of the biggest results of the season which is certain to influence the title race, it does. Real Madrid lead La Liga by just one point, but going into Wednesday night they had two games in hand to ease their nerves, and given they had lost just one league game all season, they had reasons to believe that the lead could stretch to seven points.
Valencia have been a club in crisis, with three different managers already this season, but have shown signs of life with a win over Athletic Bilbao at the weekend. However, nobody expected the start that they made at the Mestalla with an early kick off as the two sides avoided clashing their fixture with Champions League games.
West Ham flop Simone Zaza opened the scoring with a superb touch, turn and shot straight past Keylor Navas and into the top corner with one of the goals of the season to send shockwaves through Spanish football. That was only further enhanced by Fabio Orellana adding a second, with both January loan signings on the scoresheet, as he coolly slotted past Real Madrid’s Costa Rican goalkeeper.
Few wrote off Zinedine Zidane and his team, even with Raphael Varane having a game that some Spanish newspapers have described as “the worst of his life”, and there was even greater hope of a comeback when Cristiano Ronaldo headed into the net just before half-time. In the second half, though, the home team held out to secure a memorable win under Voro’s guidance with their defensive resolve truly tested to the limit, also recording Zidane’s third defeat of 2017 after going all of 2016 with just two defeats.
Now, Madrid have just one game in hand alongside their one point lead over Barcelona and three points over Sevilla. The Catalans face a tough trip to the Vicente Calderon to take on Atletico this weekend in a game which could ease the nerves at the Bernabeu, but after a disastrous week for Luis Enrique and co., this unexpected surprise will have been pleasantly received in Barcelona.
Elsewhere in the Champions League, Sevilla secured a first-leg win over Leicester City but will have been frustrated by the late consolation goal for the Foxes which gives them a chance of progress in the second leg despite being dominated by the Andalucian team. Atletico Madrid secured an even more comfortable victory as they saw off Bayer Leverkusen in Germany with a 4-2 win which puts them in a hugely commanding position going into the second leg.
Athletic Bilbao will be hoping to see out a victory over Cypriot team APOEL having won the first leg 3-2 at San Mames, whilst Celta Vigo face a tough trip to Ukraine as they fight to overcome a 1-0 home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk. They are both fortunate compared to Villarreal though, as the Yellow Submarine must score at least four goals to even take their game at the Olympic Stadium to extra time against Roma.
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