Valencia ended Real Madrid's winning streak two shy of the world record as they came from behind to win 2-1 in La Liga yesterday.
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Madrid the lead with an early penalty, but Valencia turned the match on its head with goals from Antonio Barragan and Nicolas Otamendi early in the second half.
Madrid were hunting a 23rd straight win as they closed in on Coritiba’s world record of 24 competitive victories in a row, but Valencia’s impressive home record – only Barcelona have won at the Mestalla this season – proved their undoing.
Madrid, though, remain top of the standings after Barca failed to capitalise in the evening game, losing 1-0 at Real Sociedad in a morale-boosting victory for David Moyes’ side.
An own goal from Jordi Alba in the second minute was the difference between the teams as Sociedad withstood a late barrage from Barcelona.
Passions were raised early on at the Mestalla, with Gareth Bale coming in for some rough treatment from Valencia.
The Welshman was fouled on the wing after 11 minutes, and the resulting free-kick was flicked on before striking Alvaro Negredo on the arm. It was a case of ball-to-hand but the referee pointed to the spot and Ronaldo once again made no mistake with his penalty kick.
The tough tackling would continue - by the end of the evening Valencia had six players booked – but the first caution came in bizarre circumstances, with Jose Gaya replacing the injured Pablo Piatti and booked for entering the pitch without permission, despite having apparently been waved on by the fourth official.
Madrid continued to push and were desperately close to a second when Ronaldo nipped in front of the goalkeeper only to fire into the side-netting from a tight angle. Bale was appealing for a penalty with the ball appearing to strike Lucas Orban’s arm.
Valencia had two big chances before half-time, but Barragan’s curling effort was deflected off Pepe’s back for a corner before another deflection left Iker Casillas standing as Andre Gomes’s shot came back off the upright, but the goalkeeper sprang into action to deny Paco Alcacer on the rebound.
Having earned five yellow cards in the first half, Valencia channelled their passions after the break and were level seven minutes in. Gaya made a superb driving run towards goal before laying it off to Barragan, whose shot found the net with the help of another deflection in the 53rd minute.
Otamendi then made two huge interventions, the first a last-gasp challenge which denied Bale what appeared a certain goal before the hour mark, and the second a towering header to send Dani Parejo’s corner into the net in the 66th minute.
It should have been 3-1 moments later as Valencia strung together a brilliant passing move, but with the hard work done, Barragan poked wide when one-on-one with Casillas.
Madrid tried to make them pay, but Ronaldo missed chances late on, including a superb save from Diego Alves at point-blank range.
Meanwhile, winning trophies with his boyhood club and rediscovering his scoring touch is what Fernando Torres really craves after returning home to Atletico Madrid. Fans flocked to the Vicente Calderon yesterday to welcome back their idol after a loan deal was agreed with AC Milan for Torres to play for the La Liga champions until the end of next season.
Torres, a product of the Atletico youth system, made his debut aged 17 and went on to become a talisman for Atletico at a time when the club was struggling on the pitch.
The former Atletico captain played 244 games before deciding to seek his fortune abroad by joining Liverpool in 2007.
“Away from the pitch a lot has happened since I moved. I am more mature and I am a happier person with a family,” Torres said at his presentation.
“On a sporting level I was very young and I had a very difficult decision but I knew I had to leave for me and for the club to grow. It was the hardest moment of my career but it has worked out as the club is now stronger and has won titles.
“For me I got the trophies that I wanted but there has always been something I lacked which was to win them here. I have a lot of motivation to win them here and hopefully I can do that with hard work.”
There would be no better place to rediscover his golden touch in front of goal than against Real Madrid in the King’s Cup last 16 on Wednesday.
“I have come here to give my all,” Torres said. “Atletico has grown a lot since I was here and it is now competing against the top clubs in the world like Real Madrid and Barcelona and it is this challenge against bigger teams which attracts me.”