What a match. After going down 2 goals with just over 30 minutes to play, it appeared that Real Madrid had blown it’s La Liga lead in just 4 days. What happened next was nothing short of surprising. Madrid blitzed Villarreal to the tune of 3 goals in 20 minutes to take the lead with just minutes remaining. The whites hung on, and assured that they would head into the next match day at the top of the table.
Going into this match Villarreal had the best defensive record in La Liga, conceding just 15 goals in the 23 league matches prior. Despite their impressive defensive record, Villarreal had been toothless as of late, so it was surprising to see Zidane name Casemiro as a starter over attacking midfielders like Isco or James. Real Madrid’s build-up play often suffered, and it was not until Isco came on for Casemiro that Madrid consistently broke down the yellow submarine.
Keylor Navas: 7.5
The Costa Rican was helpless on both of Villarreal’s goals as they were both products of poor defending. Made brilliant saves whenever called upon, and kept Madrid in the match when they were struggling to find their footing.
Dani Carvajal: 7.5
The Spanish Right-Back had a rough start to the match, but made up for it with a brilliant second half. Occasionally caught out due to his bombing runs forward, but those same runs created two crosses of immense danger. The first being a stunning ball firmly to the head of Bale to begin the comeback, and the second eventually falling to Kroos seconds before his shot was called as a handball.
The better half of the central partnership, Pepe won multiple aerial duels, and made a crucial block in his first meaningful start in what feels like ages.
Sergio Ramos: 6
Mediocre performance from the Captain. Poor marking and lack of spatial awareness occurred on more than one occasion, including Villarreal’s 2nd goal. Ramos did, however, win several tackles, and was good in distribution.
A typical performance from Marcelo featuring his usual swashbuckling runs followed by opponents exploiting the space he usually vacates. Whipped in numerous crosses including the winner to Alvaro Morata. Created danger often and linked well with both Ronaldo and Benzema.
As seen in the above chart, Casemiro significantly hindered Real Madrid’s attack. No matter what your opinion on Casemiro is, no-one can deny that against Villarreal he established no meaningful passing triangles with his teammates. As Om Arvind states, the midfield is non-existent, with the right flank being especially problematic. Casemiro is an essential piece to Real Madrid, but this match just wasn’t suited to his strengths at all, and it was obvious.
Toni Kroos: 6
A surprisingly average performance from Kroos yesterday. The German misplaced passes that he would normally hit right on target. His one major contribution to this match was the shot that hit Bruno Soriano’s arm and led to the equalizing penalty for Madrid.
Luka Modric: 6.5
The Croation struggled at times, but this was hardly his fault. Due to Madrid’s inability to break Villarreal down, Los Blancos were forced out wide (a common theme this season). As a result Modric played almost as the right wing at times.
Had an injury scare in the second half, but was able to continue.
Cristiano Ronaldo: 8.5
Played a critical role in both the equalizing and the go-ahead goal. Calm and confident, Ronaldo overcame an unlucky shot off the post and time wasting tactics to cooly bury the tying penalty. Showed patience and class before playing Marcelo wide moments before the eventual winner.
Karim Benzema: 6
Starved of service while on the pitch. Forced a world class save from Asenjo, but ultimately failed to make a major impact on the match.
Gareth Bale: 8
The Welshman looked very sharp in his first start since November. Just like he has done countless times before, Bale began the comeback with a headed goal to put Madrid on the board. Put in a strong attacking shift, and was a constant threat on the right flank. Just like Luka Modric had an injury scare, but looked to be fine as he walked off.
Isco (Sub): 9
It cannot be understated just how big of an impact the Spaniard had on this match, but you probably knew that. The moment Isco came on the pitch everything changed for Real Madrid. Not only were 3 points in the balance, but also the momentum of the La Liga title race. Set up the attacking move that led to the opening goal with an excellent dribbling run. Nearly every major attacking move came from Isco, as the substitute put his mark on the match in the most profound way, and might have just earned himself a new contract in the process.
Alvaro Morata: 7.5
Talk about an instant impact substitution. Six minutes after being subbed on for Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata headed home a cross from Marcelo to seal the 3 points for Madrid. Morata deserves more league minutes, and with continuous clutch performances, Zidane may eventually have no choice.
Lucas Vazquez: N/A
Came on too late to make an impact.
Man of the Match: Isco
Marcelo knew it was never in doubt.