Yet again it was Karim Benzema who pulled Real Madrid out of a hole, but this time he had some help from an unexpected source.
It was Thibaut Courtois who set up the Frenchman’s 95th-minute equaliser in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Valencia, with a gleeful Benzema firing home the rebound from the goalkeeper’s header.
The draw put Madrid back on top of the table with reigning champions Barcelona on 35 points after 16 games going into Wednesday’s Clasico at Camp Nou.
There is nothing between the two teams numerically speaking and both arrive at the rearranged derby conscious of their own flaws and looking to expose their opponents’.
After Barcelona’s shaky 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad left Madrid with the chance to move clear at the top, Los Blancos failed to take advantage.
Mestalla is not an easy place to go and this was never going to be a walk in the park for Madrid.
However, Zinedine Zidane will be frustrated and disappointed with the way his team failed to capitalise on the control they had in the first half, and how they allowed Valencia to edge ahead in the second.
Chances went begging for Los Blancos, with Jaume Domenech making some solid – albeit not spectacular – stops from Toni Kroos, Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes’s header.
The best opportunity fell to Benzema, who headed Nacho Fernandez’s cross narrowly wide of the far post.
Given the striker’s impressive form, you expected his header to ripple the net, but it wasn’t to be.
Last weekend, we saw Madrid dominate against Espanyol but not kill the game off until Benzema struck late on, and wondered if their profligacy would be punished in the weeks ahead, against higher calibre opponents.
This was the first hurdle and they almost fell, unable to punish Albert Celades’s side for giving up a handful of opportunities, until Benzema eventually pulled level with Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi as the division’s top scorer on 12 goals apiece.
Chances were much harder to come by in the second half and that’s where Madrid were made to pay for Eden Hazard’s absence.
The Belgian winger, signed from Chelsea in the summer, was built to unpick locks for Los Blancos but Valencia shut the door in Madrid’s face time and again. With no Hazard, there was no way through.
Isco possesses the same type of skills as Hazard but he is still far from his best, a faded presence who only shines in fits and starts.
Rodrygo, brought down in the area in one early, exciting burst faded quickly from the game.
Fede Valverde, playing in Casemiro’s holding role, impressed in one of the other positive spots for Madrid, but Luka Jovic continues to disappoint.
Zidane doesn’t trust the Serbian striker much, only giving him the dregs of games to try and make an impact, which he is failing to do.
Jovic rammed home in the 93rd minute but was clearly offside and it looked like the jig was up, until Madrid’s usual suspect made the difference for them again.
But while Zidane has grown accustomed to relying on his compatriot, Courtois’s rise to form over recent weeks has been a welcome surprise – and his role in the equaliser here was even more unpredictable.
The Belgian shot-stopper had already made a decisive contribution, brilliantly holding his nerve against Ferran Torres as the Valencia man ran through on goal, refusing to move too early and then keeping out the winger’s panicked finish.
Courtois had no chance of saving Soler’s strike but his firm header from the late corner was crucial. It might be the moment his Madrid career truly takes off, and with the Clasico impending, the timing couldn’t be any better.