Real Madrid effort vs. Valencia deserves praise, says Rafa Benitez
Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez praised the effort of his players after Sunday evening's rollercoaster 2-2 draw at Valencia saw Los Blancos lose more ground in the La Liga title race.
Madrid appeared set for the three points when Karim Benzema shot them ahead early, but Valencia equalised from the penalty spot through Dani Parejo just before half-time.
A cagey second half sprung to life when Real midfielder Mateo Kovacic was shown a straight red card, and Gareth Bale and Paco Alcacer swapped quick goals -- with Bale and Valencia sub Alvaro Negredo then both having injury time chances to win the game for their side.
The performance and result are likely to mean Blancos president Florentino Perez will decide to not fire the under-pressure Benitez now, however the team once again dropping points after going ahead in a game will surely provide more ammunition for his critics among local fans and pundits.
Benitez told his postmatch news conference at Mestalla that he was aware about the speculation about his future, but preferred to focus on what he saw as a praiseworthy performance and effort from his team.
"I cannot avoid other people speculating," Benitez said. "What I can do is get the team to work as they have today. They made a great effort, and unfortunately could not take the three points.
"In the first half we had control for 35 minutes. The second half was difficult. But we did good work. Left with 10 men we had to make an effort and the players did that. We had chances to win at the end, and also to lose the game. It was a pity to concede so soon after scoring the second."
The result means Madrid are in third place in the table -- four points behind surprise La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid, and two points behind second-placed Barcelona who have a game in hand. But Rafa rejected a reporter's suggestion his team had missed a chance to close the gap on the leaders.
"You have the right to ask that question, but I believe it is not well directed," Benitez said. "We are mistaken if we just look at the result. The effort the team put in deserves praise, not anything else. They stood up to be counted and fought until the end."
Goalscorer Benzema being withdrawn for hard-working midfielder Lucas Vazquez early in the second half, with the score at 1-1, looked like a defensive change from a coach criticised by some Madrid-backing fans and pundits for his caution.
"Benzema had an ankle problem," Benitez said in his own defence. "We wanted to have more control there but unfortunately we then had the red card so then it was a case of taking advantage of the speed we have [on the break]. I want the team to play well, as they did today, to battle, for everything to work. Even with 10 players we have scored. I must focus on that."