Valencia defiant as Real stutter again
Real Madrid dropped another two points in the race for La Liga's title as they failed to breakdown a stubborn Valencia side at the Santiago Bernabeu tonight. Cristiano Ronaldo came within inches of opening the scoring in the opening ten minutes as he struck the inside of the post, but at the other end Ricardo Costa should also have done better when he headed against the upright with the goal at his mercy.
Tino Costa also hit the woodwork with a thunderous strike from fully 30 yards that rattled the crossbar ten minutes after the break, but Valencia were thankful for Vicente Guaita as he made fine saves from Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema to keep the scoreline blank. The draw means Barcelona are just four points behind Madrid with seven games to go, including El Clasico at the Nou Camp later this month.
In a bright opening Ronaldo was first to threaten for the hosts as he shot from 25 yards came back off the inside of the post, but the visitors were also looking dangerous and Sofiane Feghouli's effort from similar range flashed just past right-hand upright. A fine team move presented Ronaldo with another opportunity after 19 minutes as Mesut Ozil fed Benzema and his backheel rolled the ball perfectly into the Portuguese's path, but his low effort was parried by Guaita.
Valencia should have gone ahead six minutes later, though, when Iker Casillas could only parry Tino Costa's drive as far as Ricardo Costa, but the Portuguese defender hit the post with the goal gaping. Chances continued to come at both ends as Ozil's effort was cleared off the line by Jordi Alba before Casillas was forced into another smart save low to his left from Pablo Piatti.
Guaita repeatedly frustrates
Madrid boss Jose Mourinho introduced Angel Di Maria in place of Gonzalo Higuain at the break and the replacement nearly had an immediate impact as he fed a pass through to Ronaldo, whose effort was just tipped behind by Guaita. The visitors then hit the woodwork for the second time when another rasping Tino Costa shot came crashing off the bar.
Madrid's best chance of the night arrived with 21 minutes remaining when Ronaldo's pace took him past Adil Rami, but, having got himself clear, the former Manchester United man lost his balance and his claims for a penalty were rightly waved away.
Valencia coach Unai Emery's counter-attacking game plan was working to perfection and Valencia had another two chances to take the lead as substitute Jeremy Matthieu lashed just wide before Aritz Aduriz headed over when well-placed inside the area.
However, Guaita was then called upon to keep his side on level terms as he brilliantly turned Di Maria's swerving effort behind for a corner. And Valencia were thankful to their keeper again moments later as he somehow denied Benzema twice from point-blank range before seeing the ball rebound kindly behind for a goal kick.
Five minutes later it was Casillas who was called on to save his side as Alba galloped through on goal following a defensive mix up, but the Spain international stood up well to divert the ball behind. And the hosts had two final chances to win the game in stoppage time, but Benzema's instinctive volley was repelled by Guaita before Di Maria tamely shot into the keeper's arms after brilliantly working space for himself inside the area.