Real Madrid started off 2019 with a sub-par performance against relegation-zoned Villarreal drawing 2-2 at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
It was the hopes of many that the current Club World Cup champions would return to the second half of the 2018/19 season to try to close the gap in LaLiga but once again, the team dropped points.
Combine inadequate substitution decisions from Solari and the gaping striker void that needs to be filled, the match was weak.
The most obvious missing link however, was the team’s hunger. There was no fire throughout the match and it cost them precious points.
Lack of drive
Even though Real Madrid had a one goal lead at halftime, both teams had roughly the same statistics.
Possession was split down the middle, each team had two corners and the ball loss/ball retrieval numbers hovered around the same area.
While on paper the teams were the same, Villarreal still held something above Los Blancos that was more influential than the score line: persistence.
Right from the start, Luis Garcia’s side knew they had a mission to complete and it did not take long for the ‘yellow submarines’ to have the upper hand.
A defensive error on Marcelo’s part allowed Santi Cazorla to become the first striker to score against Real Madrid only four minutes into the first match of the year.
After going down a goal so quickly, Karim Benzema managed to pull on back and Raphael Varane eventually gave them the lead but they did not maintain their drive going into the second half.
Real Madrid were playing too comfortably against a team in the midst of being relegated and Villarreal came to play for a positive result which they ended up getting in the end.
Villarreal continued to press against the timid defensive line and in the 82nd minute, broke through to steal a point once again through Cazorla.
The draw was enough to raise them into 17th place and out of any danger for the time being.
Real Madrid on the other hand missed an opportunity to dictate over a struggling side in hopes of closing in on Barcelona’s lead.
Add on the fact that Gareth Bale and Luka Modric picked up injuries and the team felt very comfortable holding a 2-1 lead, Santiago Solari opted to make some substitutions.
His decision to introduce Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior however made little impact on the game.
Keeping on Casemiro and subbing off Toni Kroos dictated how the team played during the last 45 minutes.
Kroos was the player in charge on the pitch and had a great impact on the flow of the game with his 98 touches on the ball and 94 passes.
Casemiro on the other hand was responsible for covering the gaps that Dani Carvajal and Marcelo created at the back and did not offer much offensively.
If Solari was really wanting to make sure the team took home three points, Dani Ceballos and/or Sergio Reguilon should have been introduced alongside Vinicius.
The three youngsters along with Isco, Benzema and Lucas Vazquez upfront would have created more opportunities for the team to extend their lead.
Missing striker up front
The team also is missing a player who can play either as a starter or a substitute and have an impact on matches such as this one.
The teams two main forwards, Bale and Benzema have the qualities to make an impact on the game but the inconsistency is huge.
The Welshman made a minimal impact against the years first opponents and eventually was subbed off after injuring his calf muscle again.
Benzema appeared eager to start 2019 in the best way possible and managed to answer Cazorla’s opening goal only two minutes after it was scored, levelling the score at 1-1.
Throughout the rest of the match, Benzema was Madrid’s most active forward and had four shots on target compared to Lucas Vazquez’s three and Gareth Bale’s one.
Modric was another lively player on the pitch, often floating forward in-behind the front three but he too fell short of making any impact, his talents are of better use in the midfield.
Now with winter transfer window Solari and club president Florentino Perez have the opportunity to bring in a player who can be decisive when they need it.
Whether or not they decide to do so is another story.
If Real Madrid want to try and work towards closing the gap in the table, they cannot afford to put on performances such as this one and their next few matches will prove to be very important on the seasons final result.