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Immediate Reaction: Villarreal 2 - 1 Real Madrid

Villarreal CF v Real Madrid CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Villarreal 2 - 1 Real Madrid (Pino, Moreno; Benzema). Here’s our quick reaction at the final whistle. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game quotes, post-game podcast, statistical review, and plenty more.

It’s hard to state what was at the top of the list of Real Madrid’s problems today at Estadio de la Cerámica. But, regardless of whatever was the most concerning thing to any individual Madridista watching, the list of issues was long.

For one, there is the intangible: Intensity. The winning team had it, the other didn’t. Villarreal started on the front foot, forced Real Madrid’s defense into mistakes, and got into good scoring positions early.

Tactically speaking, there was clear confusion in Real Madrid’s right half-space between Eder Militao and Antonio Rudiger, and two Villarreal players in particular — Gerard Moreno, Yéremy Pino — exploited that channel multiple times throughout the game with their incisive passing, dribbling, and movement.

And as out-of-sorts as Real Madrid’s backline was, they could have limited some of the damage had their press either: 1) been (much) better; or 2) not have been deployed at all. Lots of the scrambling players in deeper positions had to do came down to Villarreal carving through disjointed pressing sequences.

As it stood at half-time, goalless — a scoreline which flattered Real Madrid — Ancelotti’s men struggled to find opportunities on the offensive end, though they did have sporadic chances they couldn’t take advantage of. Villarreal also did well to limit the space of Benzema and Vinicius. In particular, Juan Foyth — a player who has had success against Vinicius Jr before — defended the Brazilian winger about as well as you can. On the opposite flank, Fede Valverde had a quiet game.

There were no changes at half-time (neither in personnel nor in performance), and Villarreal took a deserved lead in the 47th minute, after Ferland Mendy gave the ball away, Real Madrid’s defense wasn’t in position to recover, Rudiger stepped up when he shouldn’t have, and to bring it full-circle, Mendy redirected the ball into his own net:

Real Madrid equalized through a Karim Benzema penalty, then went behind again three minutes later after Gerard Moreno put Villarreal ahead through a penalty of their own. And while the penalties are (and will be) talking points (including one that wasn’t called later after Rudiger got elbowed in the box), those side notes shouldn’t dominate the over-arching story: Villarreal deserved their win and Real Madrid need to improve.

We’ll break this down in much more detail in the coming hours.

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