A good Villarreal side poured cold water on Real Madrid’s recent euphoria on Saturday night. Apart from two spells at the beginning and end of the game, the Yellow Submarine had more of the ball, controlled the game and stopped a Madrid side that had been on a roll in its tracks. Villarreal handled their possession well, albeit slowly, from box to box and combined well up front. They were solid at the back, although on this occasion helped out by the lack of inspiration among Madrid’s attacking artists. None of Carlo Ancelotti’s forwards were particularly threatening in a match where they failed to reach the heights of recent fixtures. Overall, the game gave prestige to Villarreal. They had the better chances but they will not view a draw in a bad light, even if it is true that picking up draw after draw won’t get you very far. For Madrid, it was a disappointment.
Ancelotti decided to play Fede Valverde at right back and the ploy did not work. Lucas Vázquez did not play well in the previous game and as Casemiro and Luka Modric were coming back and Valverde was flying, the Italian decided to hand him the role. He was neither certain of himself at the back against the tricky test of Arnaut Danjuma nor did he add much to the attack from out wide. As the other wide defender on Saturday was Nacho, who is not a specialist in getting forward on the left, Madrid offered little from the full back positions. Rodrygo and Vinicius also failed to spark. The latter redeemed himself in part with his runs, which were a constant threat to the Villarreal defence, but too many dribbles led to nothing and too few of his attempts to finish a move came off with his recent crispness.
Adding to the sense of a missed opportunity is that Madrid’s recent run was stymied on the same day that Atlético were beaten, which offered the possibility to open a decent gap on their city rivals. Eden Hazard’s introduction for Modric with 20 minutes to go coincided with Madrid’s most dangerous spell. The Belgian came on with trickery and enthusiasm, switched the attack on and led a late charge that at least served to lift the boredom the fans had been subjected to for the previous 70, even if it did not bring about the desired goal. Madrid will point to a possible penalty on Nacho in their defence, but it was hugely disputable. He was blocked outside the area, unbalanced when he entered it and there clattered into Raúl Albiol, who was moving to intercept. Referee Gil Manzano did not even see the previous foul and limited himself to giving Nacho a dirty look.