This was an uncomfortable result at the Bernabeu, even if it was one of Real Madrid’s better performances during this dry run. That’s not saying much, given the team’s current skid, but they did put in a respectable first half against a solid Villarreal side -- perhaps unlucky to not get a penalty and a goal or two from Cristiano Ronaldo. Sergio Asenjo put in a great shift — as he’s done over and over again this season, and Javier Calleja’s men defended well.
Villarreal are not the same defensive juggernaut from year’s past, as Allen and I discussed in the preview podcast, but they did a lot today to snuff out Real Madrid’s space. On the flanks, they doubled-up, then rotated centrally when the ball was recycled. They hounded Ronaldo’s runs all game, and on moments they failed to do so, Ronaldo’s decision-making wasn’t great, or Asenjo made a great save. The goal was probably going to have to come from a scrap, a rare counter where Villarreal broke on a press, or something truly special to beat Asenjo in goal. Turns out, it was none of those things.
It’s hard to chalk this result up to anything other than bad finishing coupled with good defending from the Yellow Submarine. The eye-test, other than that, wasn’t horrible from Zidane’s men (yes, it’s embarrassing that this is our measuring stick at this point). But, for what it’s worth, coming out of that closed doors meeting, the team worked hard in the first half, pressed well, had good coverage defensively, and created enough chances to score a goal or two. In the second half, Villarreal grew into the game offensively, and Real Madrid started to play under more and more pressure, which eventually takes a toll on an already frail mental team — and both teams were met with back-and-forth chances (generally, late in games, this is a nightmare scenario for Real Madrid fans).
And, ultimately, it was the worst kind of nightmare, as, Villarreal scored a late goal on the counter-attack.
Here are some quick bullet points from my notepad. We’ll break this down further in the coming hours, and our post-game podcast will go up tomorrow:
- Varane was excellent, again. He continues to be the team’s constant this season. He made important interventions all match.
- Villarreal defended well, as noted above, but there were a couple instances where they pressed high efficiently and got an unlucky bounce completely break them. Those were the moments Real Madrid finally had space to work with, but, the efficiency just wasn’t there. Ronaldo, on his own, stifled three of Real’s counter-attacks.
- Ronaldo was involved though, which is a good sign. But as the trend goes this season, his efficiency has been among Europe’s worst, and it’s hard to pin-point why. His decision-making wasn’t great, but in years past, he’d get away with that because his greatness just takes over. Have not seen that yet in La Liga, and I would’ve liked to have seen Zidane take him off instead of Bale. The Welshman looked dangerous all game, and he didn’t look tired. Zidane opted to keep Ronaldo as the spearhead.
- I honestly can’t remember a situation this bad for Real Madrid in La Liga. I’ll have to go back later and look at it year-to-year, but, genuinely, this is concerning.