Luis García went with a different lineup than his predecessor, and some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Miguel Layun at right back for the suspended Mario was pretty disastrous; Javi Fuego was pretty much Javi Fuego. As for the holdover starters, Gerard Moreno was again, I hate to say it, nervous and anonymous, and the less said about Alvaro Gonzalez the better.
No, the stars for Villarreal were Santi Cazorla and Samu Chukwueze. Santi scored both Villarreal goals—the first, in the fourth minute, a curling shot that tucked just inside Courtois’s post, and, with eight minutes left, a header from a perfect Fornals past that Santi directed between the keeper’s legs.
Villarreal started briskly in a 4-2-3-1 with Santy Caseres and Javi Fuego in the pivote, and started well, but Madrid took over after being rocked by Santi’s golazo and scored two themselves. The first was exactly the sort of goal you knew we were susceptible to—Lucas Vasquez crossed the ball into the box and Karim Benzema, played onside by Alvaro but unmarked, headed past Asenjo. o
Madrid enjoyed their best spell of the game after that and took the lead on a set piece. Toni Kroos lifted the ball toward Raphael Varane who used his six-inch height advantage to head the ball home over Santy Caseres.
A major talking point just before the half was Sergio Ramos stepping on Samu’s foot rather than the ball as the Nigerian shaped to shoot in the area. No penalty, no VAR review.
HT Villarreal 1-2 Real Madrid
The second half was quite open, with Samu continuing to cause all sorts of problems down the Madrid left and Isco (who replaced the injured Gareth Bale at halftime) and Vasquez attacking down our flanks. It was fun stuff, but for the most part, the decision-making in the final third just wasn’t quite there for either side. Gerard shot just wide, Isco had a fine chance, a pass missed a wide-open Benzema, Toko Ekambi couldn’t get a shot away, Alvaro’s header off a corner was just wide....
It seemed as though Villarreal might have spurned a great chance to equalize with 10 minutes left, when a Samu-to-Fornals-to Santi move ended with a shot over the bar from a tight angle. But, amazingly enough, the same three combined again just moments later, and this time Santi was in a better position and finished the move off with his second goal of the game.
There was still time for each side to push for a winner, but apart from yellow cards for Sergio Ramos and Jaume Costa, not a great deal happened.
FT Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid
Madrid will doubtless feel they didn’t play that well, which was true. However, Villarreal were far more competitive against a subpar Madrid than they were against a subpar Barcelona. We did not look like a team that was in the drop zone coming in to the game.
Vicente Iborra was according to some reports supposed to be attending the game. We can use Iborra, for sure. But another centerback is a huge need, too.
Alvaro’s yellow (and Jaume Costa’s) rule them out against Eibar on Sunday.