Real Madrid left-back Marcelo once again staked a claim to be his side’s most irreplaceable player with a late winner at home to Valencia that keeps his team in control of their own fate in the title race.
Manager Zinedine Zidane restored most of his big names to the starting XI and they were ahead at the break thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 27th-minute header, but lacked the zip and sparkle shown in midweek by the ‘B team’ at Deportivo La Coruna.
Karim Benzema struck a post early in the second half, before Ronaldo saw a spot-kick saved by Valencia’s Diego Alves; the goalkeeper has kept out five penalties this season and 24 during his career, three of which have been taken by Ronaldo.
And Madrid seemed set to pay for letting their minds slip toward Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal, when one-time Blancos midfielder Dani Parejo curled a 25-yard free kick beyond Keylor Navas and into the top corner with just eight minutes to play.
With the noise levels now fearsome at the Bernabeu, Madrid finally showed real intensity and poured forward looking for another of their characteristic late winners. The mood changed and a goal did not take long to come, as Marcelo drove inside from the left wing and sent a low, right-footed shot past Alves.
It was the seventh time this season Madrid had won a game in the last 10 minutes and, although the identity of the matchwinner was new, it was fitting. While Zidane has rotated recently, Marcelo is the only player to feature in each of the last nine games; starting eight and also appearing as a substitute to assist Isco’s injury-time winner at Sporting Gijon two weeks ago.
With back-up left-back Fabio Coentrao seemingly forever stuck in limbo and supposed left winger Ronaldo spending most of his time at centre-forward, Madrid need Marcelo’s relentless energy and creativity to cover the entire flank. He is unlikely to figure in the Ballon D’Or voting later this year but, time and again, he has proved invaluable to his club.
“Today we dug deep into our souls and we have shown everyone who we are,” Marcelo said afterward. “With the fans pushing it is difficult to beat us here. I’m happy for the goal, but even more for getting the points. We remain on our feet; we will fight until the end.”