The First Half
Things did not start well for Real Madrid as they welcomed back Villareal into the top flight of Spanish football on Saturday night. The quick, intricate buildup play that Villareal has employed to great effect in its first three victories of the 2013 La Liga season showed up to play again today. Real Madrid's injury-ravaged back line struggled to provide a formidable defence to match Villareal's movements.
Diego López was called upon multiple times just to keep Madrid afloat in the first 45 minutes against The Yellow Submarine. In seven minute intervals starting in the 21st, López scrambled to his left to rob a point-blank goal attempt off Aquino's feet, just missed out on keeping out a scramble goal from Cani and then pulled out back-to-back Houdini-like saves out of his magic hat to deny what could have been Villareal's two-goal lead.
The common denominator to Diego López's troubles was truly ragged defending. Though it may be unfair to single out individual defensive shortcomings from the first half, Pepe and Nacho in particular did not look up to it. Villareal looked to make a point of exploiting Madrid's weak-link on the left in the form of Nacho and poured on attack after attack down that sideline. A sense of calm in the back line has been missing since Raphäel Varane's been out of the side. The golden boy really can't get healthy soon enough.
For all its soft defending, Madrid got one back after some really nice play on its right side from Benzema, Carvajal, Modric and a certain someone named Gareth Bale. Silk met steel on a goal Gareth Bale will surely remember for the rest of his life. It came as a bit of a surprise that Bale's first Real Madrid action would come in the form of a start today, but he didn't disappoint and left no one questioning his determination in the 39th minute. He fought his way through a challenge to cap off Carvajal's splitting cross into the box to equalize before halftime.
The Second Half
It was clearly in Ancelotti's plans to get Bale and Asier Illarramendi an hour of action each. Both came off after the hour mark to be replaced by Ángel Di María and Sami Khedira respectively. Both debutantes put in good performances if you ask this writer. Both had moments that showed their rust, but both also showed flashes that demonstrated the reasons Madrid were so keen to dress them in white.
Los blancos got to enjoy what it felt like to lead this match for six minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo got the ball to his feet with acres of space and few defenders in front of him in the 64th minute. We all know how this story ends. Villareal's goalkeeper, Sergio Asenjo, could not quite keep out Ronaldo's slightly-deflected effort on goal and only managed to help the ball into the net from his helpless position on his back. This was one of a few memorable moments when Real Madrid reverted to its lightning-fast counter-attacking. Don't expect those moments just to go away with a new style of play.
The ragged defending continued in the second half for Madrid. An inability to dictate the pace and space in midfield left the defenders in too many compromised positions. Despite López's best efforts, Cani seemingly effortlessly walked past defenders and created another scrambled chance that Giovanni dos Santos capitalized on across the face of the goalkeeper.
Both teams pushed forward for a winning third goal in the final 20 minutes. While the game opened up considerably in the final moments, both keepers made key saves to keep the score deadlocked. The teams shared the points and have now dropped their first points of the season, but one point apiece seems the just result between these two.
Madrid still is looking for some consistency and identity, much like in the first three matches of the season. Growing pains are fine and good when the team gets three points. They become a bit tougher to sit through when the team doesn't. Let's hope the squad can find its sync now that the long-anticipated debut of Gareth Bale is behind us. It's a long season.