Even Usain Bolt can be slow out the blocks

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

So that wasn't the start Madridistas had hoped for - but it's not the end of the world.

A 1-1 draw against Valencia. It may be seen as a case of two points dropped for Jose Mourinho and his men and, as often seemed the case last season, draws were the new defeats for Madrid and Barca in their battle for the title, especially on home soil.

Many had expected Los Blancos, so ruthless and so successful over the close season and so settled from the last Liga-winning campaign, to come flying out of the traps against Mauricio Pellegrino's men and storm to an opening day victory, but Valencia were always going to prove a tough nut to crack.

Los Che are still the third best team in the division on paper, were bolstered by some quality new additions - two from Madrid in Sergio Canales and Fernando Gaga - and were one of just three teams to take points from Madrid at the Bernabeu last season, the others being Barcelona and Malaga.

Valencia, too, have made good starts to their previous two Liga campaigns, winning their first three matches in each, so are traditionally quick out of the blocks. They had the third best defensive record in La Liga last season. With a new manager to impress on the sidelines in Pellegrino, it was always going to be a tricky tie for Madrid, and so it proved.

But even Usain Bolt can be slow out of the blocks - it's the end product that counts, and Madrid still has plenty more to come.

And that's encouraging, given the stats from the match. Twenty-four shots to Valencia's five, 12 corners to their visitors' five and 61 per cent of the possession. It's the final score that matters, but with more games the sharpness and that extra bit needed in front of goal will return.

Hopefully the knock sustained by Angel di Maria in the second half will be just that and nothing more. The Argentine wing wizard will be Madrid's top assists maker this season if he can manage to stay fit unlike last season, even above Mesut Ozil, in my opinion. He created Gonzalo Higuain's opener and he almost provided his countryman with another in the second half when Higuain headed a superb di Maria ball on to the woodwork.

On the other wing, Cristiano Ronaldo had an unusually quiet game by his standards. The Portuguese had to get more of the ball, especially when Valencia's backs were against the wall midway through the second half. Maybe Ronaldo, and his team-mates were still slightly in summer holiday mode.

There were some concerns, however. The defensive mix-up that allowed Jonas in for his equaliser, for example. A ball Iker Casillas should probably not have come for, and a lack of sticking to one man from Xabi Alonso and Pepe. A gift of a goal for the visitors, and gifts Madrid can't afford to give away against the better teams in the league.

But this may not be the Madrid side we see starting on a regular basis in a couple of weeks' time. Sami Khedira started on the bench and must surely be thrown back in alongside Alonso, with Diarra dropping to the bench. Karim Benzema, too, will be chomping at the bit to get his starting shirt back from Higuain. Luka Modric may soon be a Madrid player and Marcelo, also starting on the bench, will be putting his hand up to replace Fabio Coentrao at left-back. Maybe the Brazilian wasn't risked due to his hectic pre-season that saw him spend hardly any time with Madrid thanks to his international commitments.

Ozil played the full 90 minutes and that may be telling on the future of Kaka. The German international very rarely plays the full match, he's usually substituted around the 70-80 minute mark, with Kaka the like-for-like replacement. The Brazilian has been linked with a move away from the Bernabeu all summer and Galatasaray are the latest club reported to be interested in him.

Not preferred or just unused due to injuries elsewhere on the pitch? Pepe substituted at half-time due to a clash of heads with Casillas and di Maria off for a knock midway through the second half. The other, second substitution, an attacking change with Benzema on for Diarra. With the close of the transfer window not far away, we'll soon find out.

Next up for Madrid? The first Clasico of the season, the first leg of the Super Cup against Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Thursday. A step-up in gear required for Jose's men, with Tito Vilanova's side opening the campaign with a 5-1 victory over Real Sociedad.

Bring it on!

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