First Division - Day 20

Real Madrid 1 - Valencia 0

Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Pavón, Roberto Carlos; Iván Helguera (Solari 80'), Makelele; Figo, Zidane (McManaman 94'), Raúl; Morientes (Guti 89'). 4-2-3-1.
Valencia: Cañizares; Curro Torres, Ayala, Pellegrino, Carboni; Rufete (Kily González 68'), Baraja, Albelda, Vicente (Aimar 76'); Mista, Ilie (Carew 62'). 4-4-2.

Team changes: Madrid: No change / Valencia: Albelda, Mista for Marchena, Salva.

1-0. 70. Morientes. Won ball off Albelda close to goal and turned past Cañizares.

Real Madrid moved four points clear at the top of the table after beating Valencia 1-0 in a packed Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The game was surrounded by controversy however, with rookie referee Pérez Pérez making a series of mistakes which heavy influenced the outcome of the match. The first and probably most serious came in the third minute of the game when he incorrectly disallowed a headed goal by Ilie after his linesman flagged for offside, and a few minutes later he waved play on when Raúl was clearly tripped by Pellegrino inside the area. Both keepers were on superb form, with Cañizares making a breathtaking one-handed save from Helguera's header before the break, and Casillas coming out of his area to head clear and then race back to his goal to tip Albelda's long effort past the post shortly after the restart.

Benítez brought on Carew for Ilie, making his first appearance since his failed move to Fulham, and then replaced a limping Rufete with Kily González, Vicente switching to the right wing. But soon afterwards came the only goal of the game, Morientes robbing the ball from Albelda in the six yard box before turning it back wide of Cañizares and in off the far post. The game was starting to get rough, with Pérez Pérez failing to take action as Hierro caught Mista with an elbow and Ayala went in over the top on Zidane. An unfortunate clash of heads with his own player Makelele left Morientes on the floor with blood streaming from his mouth, and an angry brawl developed as Carboni carried on Valencia's attack rather than put the ball out of play. The referee however took no further action, and rounded off his poor display waving away appeals for a penalty by Pavón on Albelda in the dying minutes.

Having beaten two of their direct rivals for the title Deportivo and Valencia in consecutive matches, Real Madrid consolidate their lead and already look strong contenders for their second league title in a row. They have now taken 22 points from their last eight games, and it is difficult to see who will stop them. Valencia drop to sixth, one of five teams on 33 points a point behind second placed Athletic Bilbao. The defeat was a blow to their title hopes, but the team are playing well and should finish well up the table on this performance.