Battling Real players deserve praise, says Benitez

VALENCIA: Real Madrid coach Rafa Benitez said he cannot stop people speculating about his position but felt his team deserved praise for the way they battled with 10 men in Sunday's 2-2 La Liga draw at Valencia.


There has been continual talk over recent weeks in the Madrid press about Benitez's job and the coach has been whistled by the Bernabeu crowd for some below-par performances.

His side have enjoyed some big wins this season, such as the 10-2 demolition of Rayo Vallecano last month, but most of the criticism has over the way Real have struggled to beat stronger opposition and they were hammered 4-0 at home by Barcelona.

They failed to beat Valencia but did show some quality attacking play and the fighting spirit, especially when Mateo Kovacic was sent off after 68 minutes, that even Benitez concedes has been lacking at times.

"It would be wrong to just look at the result as the effort that the players showed deserves plenty of praise," he told a news conference.

"We have (won) on many occasions, but this game was against a strong side and with ten players we have battled to the end.

"I cannot prevent people from speculating (about my position) but what I can achieve is that the team works like it has today. It was a massive effort and unfortunately we didn't get the three points."

The draw leaves Real in third place with 37 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid on 41 and champions Barcelona, who have 39 with a game in hand.

In marked contrast to his reception in the Spanish capital, Benitez was warmly received by fans at his former club Valencia and there was a banner at one end of the Mestalla which said: "Thank you for giving us the best years of our lives".

It was a special occasion for Benitez who is the most successful coach in Valencia's history, having won La Liga in 2002 and 2004, when he also led them to UEFA Cup success.

Real twice went ahead through Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale but were pegged back, and had to play the final stages of the game with ten men after Kovacic was dismissed.

"During the first 35 minutes we were in control and then in the second half it was tough," said Benitez.

"The ten minutes when we didn't have control in the first half doesn't take away the merit from the first 35 minutes and the same in the second half when we conceded again after scoring. I don't know if the opposition should be praised or it was a lack of concentration."