For the second time this season, Real Madrid were held to a goalless draw against Villarreal. Although there were no goals in this game, there were several interesting aspects as Gareth Bale played for his club for the first time since August. Here, then, comes a look at the main talking points from this draw at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
1. Could Bale still play football?
There was a surprise in the starting line-up, as Gareth Bale was named in the XI for his first minutes of club football since August. Still in the Real Madrid headlines nearly every day, we were finally going to see Bale involved in actual football action. So, how would he do? Would he be rusty? Could he still perform? Well, Bale actually did surprisingly well, considering how little he had played of late. He has had some big moments at the Estadio de la Cerámica over the years, scoring five goals there, and he came close to another goal on several occasions on Saturday afternoon, even creating some of those chances himself. Bale played so well, in fact, that it was a bit of a surprise to see him come off, although that was surely more so to do with fatigue than his performance.
2. Could Valverde make the most of this start?
After changing the game against Granada last week, Fede Valverde was rewarded with a start here in place of the rested Luka Modrić. But, he struggled, especially in the first half, as he was often left isolated as he tried to deal with Villarreal’s double left-backs on his flank. Although Valverde improved a little after the break, he was taken off in the 78th minute and he’ll be frustrated that he couldn’t grasp this opportunity. It seems Valverde does better when he comes off the bench later in games when the opposition is tiring, compared to when he is given a start.
3. Could Ancelotti celebrate his 100th LaLiga Santander match with a victory?
For Carlo Ancelotti, this was his 100th LaLiga Santander match in charge of Real Madrid. Few coaches ever reach that milestone, with the Italian just the eighth to do so, and few coaches have such a positive record over those 100 games. Mourinho has the most wins from his first centenary of league matches, with 76 wins, 13 draws and 11 defeats. But, Ancelotti has the second-most wins of all Real Madrid coaches from his first 100 league games in charge, even if Los Blancos weren’t able to take the three points this weekend. It’s 73 wins, 14 draws and 13 defeats for the 62-year-old, who remains on course for his first Spanish league title despite these two dropped points.
1. Have Real Madrid ever had a double 0-0 before?
This game finished 0-0, just like the first meeting between these teams earlier in the season. Had that ever happened before? Well, yes, but only four previous times in Real Madrid’s 91 seasons in Spain’s top division and not since 1992/92. The only four times when they’ve not scored and not conceded against a LaLiga Santander opponent over both the league meetings of a season were vs Racing Santander in 1931/32, vs Deportivo La Coruña in 1972/73, vs Real Zaragoza in 1972/73 and vs Sporting Gijón in 1992/93.
2. Was this the day that Jović’s Real Madrid exit was confirmed?
For Luka Jović to not be an automatic starter when Karim Benzema is injured says a lot about his standing at the club. Ancelotti has made excuses for not picking the Serbian in the past, pointing to injury niggles or a lack of fitness after COVID-19. But, Jović was 100 percent fit and available for this game and yet it was Bale who was preferred to him in attack. This means that there are now five players who have led the line for Real Madrid this season when Benzema has been out, namely Bale, Isco, Mariano, Hazard and Jović. The fact the former Eintracht Frankfurt man isn’t the definite backup there is damning. Surely, he’s on his way out in the summer.
3. What is the starting line-up against PSG?
For many, this Villarreal match was just a warm-up for the PSG first leg on Tuesday. Although Ancelotti was keen to stress that the points on offer at the Estadio de la Cerámica were just as important, it’s logical that the Champions League tie will eclipse everything else. Now that the Villarreal game is in the past, though, we can well and truly focus on PSG and there are some question marks for the starting XI. Ancelotti knows what his best line-up is, but the injury issues of Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema create some doubts. If either of the two Frenchman can’t make it, it’s going to be interesting to see who replaces them. Marcelo and Bale came in for them here, but might not be trusted at the Parc des Princes.