Two goals inside the opening ten minutes enabled hosts Valencia to stun La Liga leaders Real Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday, weathering a late storm to secure a priceless 2-1 victory.
Simone Zaza’s wonder goal got the ball rolling in the 4th minute itself, as the on-loan Juventus man continued his hot goalscoring run in Spain with a pirouetting volley which left the entire Los Blancos team dumbstruck. With his back to the goal, Zaza seemingly had no way to finish as Raphael Varane was pressurising him from behind but the Italian swivelled to unleash a stunning volley which left Keylor Navas with no chance.
Navas did have a chance to save the second, however, but after Nani had put Fabian Orellana through with a smart ball on a counter-attack, the Chilean’s shot somehow found its way past Navas’ legs to double the home side’s lead in the 9th minute.
Madrid were extremely sluggish on the night and took a while to rise from their stupor, perhaps missing the superlative talents of Gareth Bale, who sat on the bench.
Karim Benzema looked lively in attack, but with Cristiano Ronaldo not in top form, Los Blancos lacked the necessary dynamism in attack.
Ronaldo managed to cut Valencia’s deficit a minute before half-time with a powerful header from a Marcelo cross to give the visitors some hope as they went into the interval with some momentum.
It was the Portuguese superstar’s 14th league goal of the season and came at quite possibly, the worst time for Valencia, as they were hoping to see out the first half without conceding.
Things didn't pick up for Zinedine Zidane’s men in the second period, however, despite the introduction of Bale just after the hour-mark in place of the ineffectual James Rodriguez.
The Colombian had been enjoying an extended run in the Madrid starting XI in recent weeks, but with Bale on the verge of full fitness, it seems likely he will be warming the bench again.
Madrid pressed hard for a second goal but somehow didn't look cohesive in attack but credit must be given to the home side, who defended gamely for the final 45 minutes.
The pressure is well and truly on Zidane’s side, as they remain in first place, but only just. With 52 points from 22 matches, they are a point ahead of Barcelona, who have played a game more. The French manager knows his team cannot afford to slip up any more in the coming weeks and it looks like the race for the title will go down to the wire this time.
Valencia rise to 14th in the table with 26 points with the win, moving ahead of Real Betis in the process.