|First Division - Day 16|
Real Madrid 4 - Valencia 1
Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Iván Helguera, Roberto Carlos;
Makelele (Cambiasso 87'), Flavio Conceiçao; Figo, Raúl (Portillo
90'), Zidane; Ronaldo (Guti 79'). 4-2-3-1.
Team changes: Madrid: No change / Valencia: Carboni, Albelda, for Marchena, Vicente.
Real Madrid closed the gap with Real Sociedad to three points after their fifth win in a row, a convincing 4-1 victory over last year's champions Valencia. A heavy rainstorm left the pitch in difficult conditions, but with a loaded calendar of games in front of both sides and a full crowd and television audiences to appease, referee Pino Zamorano decided to let fixture go ahead. The early minutes were farcical as the players splashed around in deep puddles, but as the rain subsided they started to get to terms with the wet pitch. Cañizares was expected to return for this game but with conditions so bad Rafa Benítez decided not to risk him, and his replacement Palop was called upon to make several saves in the opening half hour, in particular from Roberto Carlos and Raúl. He was left stranded though ten minutes before half time when Hierro cleared rapidly from defence, and Zidane slid a precision pass through to Ronaldo who kept his feet to round the keeper and open the scoring.
By now the home side were well on top, and Roberto Carlos was unlucky to see his follow up shot hit the upright after his original free kick had been saved by the Valencia keeper. And Raúl should have added to the total on the stroke of half time when he lost Pellegrino but could not hit the target. Valencia had not really troubled Casillas, but after the break they came back under the inspiration of Pablo Aimar and started to carve out chances. Ten minutes in to the half they levelled the scores, Ayala leaping unmarked to head Fabio Aurelio's free kick down past Casillas, and the game was back on. Casillas had to save at the second attempt from Baraja, Aimar earning himself a booking as he went in on the keeper chasing the rebound, and Carew shot wide when free in front of goal.
But then came one of the turning points of the game when Aimar went in to try and win the ball off Salgado, his tackle causing the full back to jump back with a cry of pain. The crowd bayed for blood and Pino duly obliged, producing a second yellow card for the Argentine star and leaving the visitors with ten men. Four minutes later Madrid attacked and Raúl laid a return pass into the path of Zidane, who forced his shot into the net off Pellegrino to put the locals back in front. Valencia didn't give up and Casillas had to save from Albelda and substitute Mista as they threw everything forward. But that left gaps at the back, and substitutes Guti and then Portillo took advantage to score two more goals near the end, the first from a Roberto Carlos pass and the second after a dazzling run by Zidane. The European champions were back on track for the title, and Valencia drop to fourth, now five points behind their opponents.