Real Madrid: Benzema brace and Asensio first touch for key win
Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia: as it happened
Peeep peeep peeeep!
After a pretty evenly-contested first half, it was all Real Madrid after the break, as Los Blancos fired in three unanswered goals to cut Barcelona's lead at the top back to two points.
Karim Benzema took his LaLiga tally to 16 this season with a pair of strikes that were both fine, fine efforts, but it was Marco Asensio's goal that steals the headlines.
On his comeback to action a whole 11 months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, the substitute scored with his very first touch, steering Ferland Mendy's cut-back past goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen just moments after being brought on.
For Valencia, a dreadful second half was topped off by substitute Kang-In Lee's late red card for wildly hacking at Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
That's all from me - thanks for reading!
Four minutes of time added on.
And now Coquelin is down injured, and can't continue. Valencia have used up all their subs, so they're down to nine men for the last couple of minutes.
Straight red! Kang-In Lee is off, less than 15 minutes after coming on, after aiming a flurry of wild kicks at Ramos' legs as he challenges the Real Madrid captain for the ball!
Valencia haven't enjoyed the best of second halves.
He's not getting a hand to that one, though! Benzema thumps it in off the bar for Real Madrid's third! Top, top goal.
Kroos digs out a raking crossfield ball to find Asensio on the right, where the winger touches it first-time into the box to Benzema.
Benzema controls with his first touch, and boshes a volley into the top corner with his second. Class.
Kroos fires his effort towards the top corner, but Cillessen gets a hand to it!
Vinicius has looked very lively so far. The Brazilian sets off at pace, running at a back-pedalling Valencia backline and winning a free-kick chance for Kroos when Guillmanón handles it. The defender is booked.
Vinicius is straight into the action, scampering clear of Guillamón and advancing into the box, before trying to set up Asensio for his second. His cut-back his blocked, however. Asensio will have to make do with just the one - for now, at least.
Real Madrid make their second substitution, Vinicius replacing Hazard.
"An emotional moment"
“Poetic justice," says AS journalist Tomás Roncero as he reacts to that Marco Asensio strike. "A goal that’s his reward for his desire and determination. That goal by Asensio is an emotional moment. You deserve it, you star!”
Water break time. Valencia make their final change, withdrawing Rodrigo for Kang-in Lee.
Gooooal! Oh, it's fairytale stuff! Asensio scores with his first touch!
Ferland Mendy drives towards the left-hand byline and cuts the ball back to the penalty spot, where Asensio turns it past Cillessen and into the far corner!
Real Madrid make their first change, and it's a significant one: 11 months after his ACL injury against Arsenal in pre-season, Marco Asensio makes his comeback. He replaces Valverde.
Another double change for Valencia: Francis Coquelin and former Real Madrid player Denis Cheryshev are introduced in place of Carlos Soler and - here's a slight surprise - captain Dani Parejo.
Now Modric cracks in a shot that Cillessen has to look alive to parry! "Real Madrid have upped the tempo in the second half," says TV pundit and former Bernabéu coach Jorge Valdano. He's not wrong. It's been one-way traffic since the teams came back out.
Valencia made that double substitution just before the Benzema goal, by the way, with Guedes and Gameiro coming on in place of Ferran Torres and Maxi Gómez.
Right after being brought on, it was Gameiro who gave the ball away just before Madrid scored... so far from a stellar introduction for the Frenchman.
Goal! It's been all Real Madrid in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, and the hosts get their reward, as Benzema finishes low from Hazard's pass!
Hazard carries the ball forward from the left wing, before playing a one-two with Modric and touching it first time into the path of Benzema's run into the box, where the Frenchman sidefoots home! That's a lovely goal.
Ooh, if Ramos had got his first touch right, he might have been in on Cillessen. The Real Madrid skipper charges forward and is found in space by Benzema's backheel, but just as he prepares to advance into a shooting position, his control lets him down.
He lays it back to Valverde to shoot, but the Uruguayan's low effort is easily claimed by Cillessen.
Carvajal exchanges passes with Modric before getting his shot away from 25 yards or so, but he has a crowd of blue shirts around him and it's blocked.
Valencia are preparing to bring on Gonçalo Guedes and Kevin Gameiro.
That's a more dangerous ball into the box, but there's no-one there to gobble it up! Carvajal releases Hazard towards the byline, where the Belgian fires across the face of goal. All it needed was a touch, as they say. Benzema wanted Hazard to cut it back to the penalty spot, it would seem.
Mendy crosses from the left, but again it's dealt with fairly comfortably. Marco Asensio is warming up, by the way. He is in contention for his first appearance since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament back in July last year.
Valencia launch their first attack of the second 45, Torres touching it past Ramos and ending up in a heap after running straight into the Real Madrid captain. The youngster looks somewhat dazed, but no free-kick is given.
Carvajal fizzes in a cross from the right, but Valencia clear and Torres buys a foul off Mendy. Real Madrid win it right back and work it to Modric, who looks to slip Benzema in behind Mangala. However, the Frenchman is alive to the situation and volleys away.
Peeeeep! We're back up and running at the Alfredo di Stéfano. No half-time changes for either side.
Peeep peeep peeep! Goalless at half time.
Having begun the evening somewhat under the cosh, Valencia came back at Real Madrid as the half progressed. Indeed, they even had the ball in the net, only to see Rodrigo Moreno's strike chalked off for an offside decision which, it seems, Los Che are not 100% on board with.
Madrid have created plenty of shooting opportunities and could well have got on the scoresheet themselves - particularly when Karim Benzema slipped Eden Hazard in on Jasper Cillessen - but Zinedine Zidane will be concerned with the ease with which Valencia started to carve out chances.
One last chance for Real Madrid to launch an attack. Hazard leads a quick counter, before looking to slip Benzema in behind the last man - but it ends up ricocheting off the Frenchman and into Cillessen's arms.
First Kroos, then Hazard force Cillessen into saves with shots from the edge of the box. It's been a very open game, with plenty of attempts on goal... but it remains scoreless at the Di Stéfano.
Valencia scamper forward and work it to Ferran Torres in shooting space just inside the penalty area. The young winger gets it out of his feet and lets fly, but Carvajal throws himself at the shot and blocks! "Zidane looks somewhat miffed at how slowly his team tracked back there," note our commentary team on Spanish television.
Kroos swings over a corner kick that Casemiro gets his head to, but it's easily scooped up by Cillessen.
There will be five minutes of time added on at the end of the first half.
...and Kondogbia forces a fine stop from Courtois! 30 yards or so out from goal, the midfielder receives the ball, gets it out of his feet and thumps it towards the top corner, but Real Madrid's keeper is across quickly enough to parry!
Just as I write that, Valencia keep the ball for about two minutes. The ball is finally worked to Rodrigo, who looks to barrel through the Real Madrid backline - but Ramos clears. However, the visitors win it right back...
Carvajal crosses invitingly for Benzema, but the Frenchman can't connect. Benzema himself then loops a ball into the centre, but it's easily headed clear by Gayá.
Real Madrid win it straight back, though, and look, to an extent at least, to be reasserting their previous control over proceedings.
The players stop for the now-regulation water break, before getting play back underway. Having somewhat relinquished the degree of control that they had initially been enjoying over the game, Real Madrid may well have welcomed the chance for a swift team talk.
Carvajal goes close! Valencia have enjoyed the better of the past 10 minutes or so, but the Real Madrid right-back almost gets the hosts ahead when he bustles through a gaggle of blue Valencia shirts and into the visitors' penalty box. He shoots low towards Cillessen's far post, but the Dutchman saves smartly with his legs!
Here is an image of that offside decision against Maxi Gómez. The striker can be seen in the middle of the screen, lurking just behind Varane in a marginally offside position, as Soler plays the pass through to Rodrigo. Referee José María Sánchez Martínez, who ruled the goal out after watching the incident back on the pitchside monitor, deemed that Gómez got a touch on the ball - or at least interfered sufficiently with it - before it reached Rodrigo.
Goal! Valencia take the lea... ah, hold on!
The visitors think they've gone ahead through Bernabéu youth product Rodrigo, but after a VAR review the goal is disallowed for offside against Maxi Gómez.
Gayà crosses from the left, and the Madrid backline can only clear it as far as Soler. He feeds a deft low ball into Rodrigo's run towards the penalty spot, where the Spain international sidefoots past Courtois... but Soler's ball is deemed to have brushed the offside Gómez on its way to Rodrigo, and the goal is ruled out!
Valencia to honour Di Stéfano
What with tonight's game being played at the Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano, by the way, Valencia are to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Real Madrid great, who had three spells in charge of Los Che as a coach.
Di Stéfano, who died in 2014, won a league title as Valencia boss in 1970/71, before also leading the club to the 1980 Cup Winners' Cup and the 1986/87 Segunda División championship.
At half time this evening, Valencia president Anil Murthy is due to present Real Madrid counterpart Florentino Pérez with a framed picture of Di Stéfano.
Hazard controls and shoots powerfully from the edge of the box, but it's right at Cillessen again! There has been no shortage of shots in this opening quarter of an hour.
They've been chasing shadows so far, but Valencia are very nearly ahead! Maxi Gómez's neat reverse ball slips Rodrigo Moreno in behind the Real Madrid backline, and his low strike beats Courtois... but bounces back off the far post! One gilt-edged chance apiece.
That's a fine attacking move from Real Madrid, and an equally fine save from Cillessen! The hosts break at pace, Kroos feeding Benzema to lay the ball into the path of Hazard, who's in on goal - but his low finish is blocked by the keeper!
Kroos has a go at scoring exactly the same goal as against Eibar at the weekend, but Cillessen denies the German! Benzema scuttled into the box and laid it back for Kroos, who looked to bend the ball into the far top corner from the left-hand corner of the box - but it's too close to the goalkeeper this time.
Former Real Madrid player Brunet remembered
There was a pre-match minute's silence as a mark of respect for former Real Madrid player Isidro Brunet, who turned out for Los Blancos in the late 1950s.
Valencia get themselves into Real Madrid's half for the first time, and win a free-kick in the right-hand channel. Dani Parejo's delivery is cleared to the feet of Carlos Soler, who pings it back towards goal - but it's blocked by a wall of white shirts.
The ball remains pretty much exclusively in the possession of Real Madrid, who call Jasper Cillessen into action for the first time - but it'll take more than that to beat the Dutchman. Casemiro gets it out of his feet and lets fly from 25 yards or so, but it trundles straight into Cillessen's arms.
It's all Real Madrid ball for the first couple of minutes. Ferland Mendy gets forward on the attack and feeds Karim Benzema, whose low ball into the box is dealt with by the Valencia backline. Toni Kroos then fouls Dani Parejo, and the visitors have an opportunity to clear.
Peeeep! Underway at the Di Stéfano.
Message of support for Unzue
Out come the teams at the Alfredo di Stéfano, where home captain Sergio Ramos displays a Real Madrid shirt with a message of support for former Celta Vigo head coach and Barcelona assistant Juan Carlos Unzue, who has today announced that he has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
What the coaches said:
Albert Celades, Valencia:
"Real Madrid are a really strong side, with some of the best players in the world. They're a team with a range of resources who push you really hard. If there's one thing that's different about this year's Madrid side it's that they're hugely solid defensively - they concede few goals, and that didn't use to be the case."
"We've played Real Madrid twice this season, once [at the Spanish Super Cup] in Saudi Arabia, and once in LaLiga at Mestalla. We came away hurting from the game in Saudi Arabia [after a 3-1 defeat]. Madrid approached the two games very differently. We were happy with the match at Mestalla, where we played well [in a 1-1 draw] - hopefully we can put in a repeat of that performance."
What the coaches said:
Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid:
"We're up against a really strong side who will make it difficult for us. We want to continue on from the win the other day [against Eibar]. We want to get the three points and we'll do everything in our power to win the game.
"We started really well [against Eibar] and scored two or three goals within half an hour... But we struggle to then keep it going for the whole game, which is what happened against Eibar.
"I don't know if it's a case of wanting to get games won early doors; we know we're physically strong. What I do know is that we have the quality to start strongly and get the game won."
Mouctar 'the boxer' Diakhaby
That penalty concession against Levante was the third time in two games that Diakhaby's er, forthright defending has seen him give away a spot-kick, leading one very drole individual to change his profession to "boxer" in his Spanish-language Wikipedia entry. Low blow.
Four changes for Valencia
There are four changes for Valencia, as Daniel Wass, Eliaquim Mangala, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Ferrán Torres return to the visitors' XI in place of Alessandro Florenzi, Mouctar Diakhaby, Francis Coquelin and Gonçalo Guedes.
Gabriel Paulista and Ezequiel Garay are injured and Diakhaby is firmly on the naughty step after his rash foul conceded the penalty from which Levante levelled last Friday, so Valencia boss Albert Celades gives Mangala just his fifth LaLiga start of the season at centre-back, with the Frenchman partnering 20-year-old youth product Hugo Guillamón.
Mendy, Valverde return to Real Madrid XI
Zinedine Zidane makes two changes to the side that started Sunday's win over Eibar, as Ferland Mendy and Fede Valverde come in for Marcelo and Rodrygo Goes.
Isco had been tipped to start, but the club announced earlier today that he has suffered hamstring injury. He's now expected to be out for about three weeks - which is most of what is left of the league season, given that the final 11 matchdays are being played over the space of just a month and a half.
Valencia team news:
Starting line-up: Cillessen, Wass, Guillamón, Mangala, Gayà, Parejo, Kondogbia, Torres, Soler, Gómez, Rodrigo
Substitutes: Florenzi, Guedes, Vallejo, Gameiro, Kang-In, Costa, Sobrino, Doménech, Coquelin, Diakhaby, Cheryshev, Correia
Real Madrid team news:
Starting line-up: Courtois, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy, Casemiro, Valverde, Kroos, Modric, Benzema, Hazard
Substitutes: Areola, Militao, Bale, Marcelo, James, Asensio, Brahim, Vinicius, Altube, Rodrygo, Hernández
Valencia: one win their last nine
Meanwhile, Valencia travel to the Spanish capital on a rotten run of just one win in their last nine games, after their first LaLiga match since the competition's restart saw them concede a 98th-minute equaliser to draw with local rivals Levante.
Los Che sit eighth in LaLiga, six points off Atlético Madrid in the fourth and final Champions League spot.
Real out to cut Barcelona's lead back to two
After returning to LaLiga action with a comfortable win over Eibar at the weekend, second-placed Madrid need another three points tonight to keep up the pressure on leaders Barcelona, who are a provisional five points clear after seeing off Leganés on Tuesday.
Real Madrid vs Valencia: welcome!
Welcome to our live coverage of Real Madrid and Valencia's LaLiga clash at the Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano, in what is surely the pick of the games in matchday 29.