Jese Rodriguez came off the bench to net a priceless winner for Real Madrid as they finally saw off the challenge of Valencia to claim a 3-2 win at the Mestalla.
Manager-less Valencia had twice come back from behind, first when Pablo Piatti canceled out Angel di Maria’s opener and then when Jeremy Mathieu leveled things up just past the hour mark after Cristiano Ronaldo had headed the visitors back in front. But less than 10 minutes after coming off the bench, Madrid’s young forward secured the win for his side with eight minutes remaining.
The result means Madrid finish the year five points behind Barcelona and local rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga as Spain’s top division heads into its winter break. The win could prove vital, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side surely unable to afford dropping points after their rivals had both claimed wins earlier in the weekend.
Madrid came close to going in front in the 18th minute when Ronaldo dribbled his way into the area down the left but dragged his shot wide of the far post. Instead they would have to wait another 10 minutes to go in front. Di Maria was faced with two men as he received the ball on the right touchline from Marcelo’s pinpoint cross-field pass, but the Argentine cut in between the two of them and fired an outstanding shot into the far side of the net. The goal was the second in as many games for Di Maria, whose future is the subject of much speculation heading into the January transfer window.
But just six minutes later the home side were level. Juan Bernat came forward from left-back and supplied a wonderful cross that tiny Argentine Piatti got to ahead of a switched off Sergio Ramos to flash a header into the net from the center of the box.
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Undeterred, Madrid would go into half-time in front with a controversial goal five minutes before the interval. There were several Madrid players behind Valencia’s defensive line when Di Maria whipped in a fine in-swinging free-kick, including Ronaldo who headed into the ground and past Vicente Guaita.
While Madrid would hold their lead for longer this time, their seeming current inability to defend crosses again saw them pegged back in the 62nd minute. From Daniel Parejo’s corner, Ramos was again exposed, on this occasion as Mathieu comfortably held off his attentions to head past Diego Lopez from six yards.
The home side, who sacked their coach Miroslav Djukic in the week and were under the temporary charge of Nico Estevez, couldn’t hold on to claim a point needed to lift them into the top half of the table. Modric picked up the ball in space outside the area and supplied Jese with a fine pass on the right of the box. The 20-year-old struck a low shot from a tight angle that Guaita should never have allowed to beat him at his near post. That will be of little concern for Jese, who grabbed his second goal for the club and one that could yet prove pivotal heading into the New Year.