Real Madrid: Villarreal draw leaves Los Blancos well off pace
It was an unhappy return to LaLiga duties for Real Madrid, who were held to a draw that leaves them seven points off the top. That's a big gap to make up - particularly if it's Lionel Messi who's the driving force behind the pace-setters. Last night's game at the Estadio de la Cerámica was an interesting, watchable affair in which Villarreal gave an encouraging display of real self-belief and togetherness. They showed the kind of defensive frailty that allowed Madrid to overturn a 1-0 deficit with relative ease, but were good going forward. Young Samu Chukwueze was excellent, above all in the first half. The end product isn't always there, but he attacks with purpose, looks for the openings and tends to find them. And Santi Cazorla, who scored twice, was terrific. It's great to see him with a new lease of life.
A good night for Luis García; for Santiago Solari, less so
For Villarreal, who are in a dogfight down at the bottom, it's a fine result. After all, it's a draw against Madrid and, with teams' tallies ticking over so slowly at that end of the table, every last point is crucial. It was a good night for Luis García, who has just come in as coach. He managed the game well: the changes he made over the course of the evening helped to improve his side. The same can't be said of Santiago Solari, who adversely affected his team's display by taking off Luka Modric and replacing him with Fede Valverde. It later emerged that Modric was feeling poorly, but that being so, surely Dani Ceballos would have brought greater forward momentum than Valverde, whose introduction added too much caution into the mix.
The same old story for Real Madrid...
What we saw last night was nothing new. This term, Madrid have made a habit of playing badly against the sides lower down LaLiga. Against Huesca and Rayo, Thibaut Courtois had to produce fine stops to preserve the points. This time, though, Cazorla put the ball out of the Belgian's reach with absolute precision as Los Blancos succumbed to very familiar problems. Marcelo provides negligible protection at the back, Gareth Bale is hideously injury-prone (yesterday, at least, it meant we saw a decent-looking Isco in the second 45), and the team lack ambition and struggle to win the ball back. All this has combined to leave Madrid so far off the pace in the league that the gap is starting to look unbreachable. No, LaLiga is not the Club World Cup.