Real Madrid were left fuming after the final whistle of their encounter with Valencia as referee Jesús Gil Manzano blew for full-time as Jude Bellingham headed in a third goal to seal a win. Valencia had taken a 2-0 lead through ex-Castilla man Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk, before Vinícius Júnior got revenge for last year’s racist abuse with a double to level the tie up.

Three answers

1. Would Vinícius suffer more abuse at Mestalla?

After the horrific scenes of racist abuse last time Vinícius Júnior travelled to Mestalla in May 2023, the Brazilian was the talk of the town for much of the build-up. Pre-match, both coaches tried to play down the occasion, but measures were taken as the team bus took an alternate route to arrive at Mestalla and keep its distance from the crowds outside the ground. Vini started as expected and proved to be the hero for Real Madrid. He was subject to abuse, with the Valencia fans chanting “Vinícius, how stupid you are,” but there was no immediate evidence of racial abuse coming his way. His powerful celebration after his first goal made his point clear, much to the rage of the home fans, as he raised his fist to the air. This was a performance that made a statement.

2. Would Mestalla get the better of Real Madrid again?

Real Madrid’s record at Mestalla has not been a good one in the last decade, with three wins, two draws and five defeats giving an average of 1.1 points per game, much below the team’s average. Victory would have given Real Madrid a league double over Valencia for only the second time in a decade, but a win for Valencia would have meant consecutive home wins against Los Blancos for the first time since 1992. Instead, the points were shared between the two teams, with Real Madrid coming back from a two goal deficit at Mestalla for the first time this century. This was a tough atmosphere to handle, but Real Madrid were seconds away from taking a win against the odds.

3. Could Real Madrid be better defensively without Nacho?

The Real Madrid captain has been subject to criticism after a number of questionable performances this season, with many suggesting that an out of position Aurelién Tchouameni would be the better choice alongside Antonio Rüdiger. In truth, there was little that either could do as two individual errors from Fede Valverde and then Dani Carvajal set Valencia up for their goals, with Ferland Mendy and Carvajal not covering themselves in glory with their marking for the first. Beyond that, the Frenchman won an unusually low 50% of his duels, while Rüdiger looked a little nervy as Valencia threw pace at the defence late on in the game. Nacho was eventually brought on after 86 minutes, seeing out the game with the captain’s armband on.

Three questions

1. What was Jesús Gil Manzano thinking?

It takes quite a lot to bring together all Spanish football fans in agreement, but referee Jesús Gil Manzano managed it. His decision to blow the final whistle as Jude Bellingham headed the ball into the back of the net was simply inexplicable. Granted, the clock was on 98:42, having shown seven additional minutes initially, but Gil Manzano’s fatal flaw in that case was to even allow the initial corner to be taken. Without the ball cleared at any time from that corner and the attacking phase continuing, the decision to blow the whistle at almost the exact moment that Bellingham made contact with the ball will take some justifying. The anger and rage of Real Madrid, which saw Joselu booked and Jude Bellingham sent off, was understandable.

2. What went wrong in the first half?

The talk will all be about that refereeing decision post-match, but Real Madrid threw the three points away with how they performed in the first 45 minutes. Before Vini’s goal in the fifth minute of injury time, the team were two goals down and had generated only 0.15 xG with four shots, only one of them coming from inside the penalty box. Despite having 70% possession, Valencia were the side who looked far more up for this tie and were first to every ball, with the Real Madrid players looking lethargic and slow. After the break, inspired by Vini’s goal just before the half-time whistle, the team looked more involved. The introduction of Brahim Díaz on the hour mark added an extra spark and Real Madrid were looking more like a side with the confidence of league leaders.

3. How fit is Jude Bellingham?

The England international returned much quicker than expected and was available for selection against Valencia, with Carlo Ancelotti not doubting to put him straight into the starting line-up and give him the full 90 minutes. He was not quite as involved as he has been in some games, but still led the way by winning more duels than any other player with seven, while also contributing offensively by producing seven passes into the final third in the process. His sending off after the final whistle will mean that he will have a rest after the UEFA Champions League match against RB Leipzig in midweek, and Celta Vigo and Osasuna should be winnable matches even without Bellingham. Ancelotti won’t be happy to be without his midfielder, but he will be able to ensure that he is fully fit.

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