Villarreal did a lot of things right on Real Madrid’s visit to El Madrigal. Attack in waves, check. Neutralize Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, check. Have substitutes make an impact, check.
But in the end it was nowhere near enough for the boys in yellow to get a result – don’t let the score line deceive you. In the end, that tells us more about La Liga than any statistic or goleada. If last year’s sixth-place team, playing at home in front of a boisterous crowd, can’t really compete, then something is rotten in Denmark.
Not here to make excuses though – it’s again confirmed why Real Madrid is Villarreal’s bogeyman. Some thoughts on the match below:
You pay for goals. Just look at the price tags on the players who created Madrid’s two goals. Luka Modric – a gem of a midfielder – was a hefty purchase from Tottenham. Then Toni Kroos, one of this year’s luxury buys (from Bayern Munich), released Karim Benzema, formerly Lyon’s figurehead during their time bossing Ligue 1. And Ronaldo – who Manchester United fans were tempting during the match with an illegal overhead banner – made no mistake, as he never fails to do against Villarreal. Now 10 goals for Ronaldo against the Yellow Submarine, passing David Villa for the all-time lead in the Primera.
The back four did well. Mario Gaspar showed he has grown up with a confident performance at right back. Mateo Musacchio was everywhere, including a late sinew-stretching block on Benzema which caused the newly-reinstated Argentine international(!) to leave the pitch after Marcelino García Toral had made all three substitutions. Word is the rock at the back will miss Europa League matchday 2 and maybe more – get well soon! Gabriel Paulista gave a defensive performance that any true left back would have been proud of, though his shooting is atrocious (not unique to him). Víctor Ruiz was undressed on Benzema’s goal, but also credit the pass and odd-man rush of the kind you can’t afford against Madrid. All in all, a solid performance.
What was the idea in midfield? Marcelino is a great manager, but I don’t follow today’s midfield unit. Cani is obviously not at 100% in form and fitness – he may be a leader and Marcelino favorite, but Madrid took advantage of the lack of ball pressure on his wing. OK, start Cani – but then Moi Gómez over Javier Espinosa? Moi is a talent, but Espinosa is a more complete and polished player at this stage of their careers.
OK, so Cani and Moi on the wings, two players who go forward more easily than backward – why start Manu Trigueros over Jonathan dos Santos? Tomás Pina is firmly in fourth place in the doble pivote sweepstakes, and Jona started his first match after a long injury layoff in midweek, but Jona was up for for 45 minutes one way or the other. In the end, the responsibility for both goals falls on the midfield – too much space for Modric in front of the back four, and a poor turnover of the kind you can’t afford against Madrid leading to a rapid counterattack with the defense out of position.
Real Madrid is a bad matchup. The merengues took the lead with Villarreal on top in the play – the Yellow Submarine has not developed the killer instinct of an elite side to finish off a good spell. Then Madrid looked for a counter, and El Madrigal’s favorite player to jeer supplied the second.
Did Carlo Ancelotti’s men then look for more like Rayo Vallecano? Try and horde possession like Barcelona? No, they applied a force field around their box – 10 men behind the ball at some points(!) – and made Villarreal try and pass the ball in, as shooting obviously was not working. In the end, after some huffing and puffing, it was not enough to seriously disquiet Iker Casillas.
Villarreal’s season will not be defined by home defeats to the big two. But it’s frustrating not to score once, and it’s disappointing to see the talent and wealth disparity grow year after year. No time to cry over long-ago spilled milk – on to the Europa League and Vigo. Endavant!