Vila-real (Spain) (AFP) – Real Madrid missed a chance to increase the pressure on La Liga leader Barcelona, who lost 2-1 to Villarreal on Saturday.
Yeremy Pino and Gerard Moreno’s hits from both sides of Karim Benzema’s penalty were enough to give the home team their sixth straight win in all competitions and thwart the Spanish champion’s effort to hold the trophy.
Madrid is on the same score as league leader Barcelona, which will face Atletico Madrid on Sunday, and it looks like the fate of the country’s two giants will fight for the title this season.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team caught up with Barcelona last weekend after Xavi’s team drew with Espanyol in the Catalan derby, but Madrid did not start 2023 very well.
Madrid’s weak victory over fourth-place rival Cacereno in the Spanish Cup was followed by this annoying wake-up call at the renovated and recently reopened Estadio de la Ceramica, their minor league defeat.
According to reports in the Spanish press, Ancelotti chose a Madrid squad that did not include a Spanish player for the first time in the club’s history.
Los Blancos have struggled away at Villarreal in recent years and have two wins in 11 games, the last of which came in 2017 when Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata were on the scoreboard.
Building confidence after a tough start for the former Barcelona coach, Quique Setien’s side comprehensively outpaced Madrid in the first half, even though it wasn’t the goal they wanted.
Francis Coquelin hit the pole with a great shot from Alberto Moreno’s center, while Dani Parejo shot wide.
Gerard Moreno made his debut for Yeremy Pino, but Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois brilliantly blocked the Spanish winger who was trying to dribble around him.
Alex Baena widened one effort and narrowly curved the other as he opened up Villarreal Madrid’s lumbering defense as he wished.
Still in trouble after the World Cup break, Madrid started to push itself towards the end of the first half.
Benzema made a bad choice as he rushed into the goal with Vinicius’ support and instead of throwing the Brazilian, he hit the last man, Raul Albiol.
When the French striker later hit Vinicius, he was rejected by veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina after Geronimo Rulli’s move to Ajax.
Villarreal started the second half with the same energy and this time it paid off with the electric Pino hitting home from Moreno’s pass.
Benzema had a chance to equalize immediately, but after being slid in by Vinicius, he dragged a shot several inches wide from the far post.
The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner finally leveled up from the spot after the most marginal handball decisions were made against Argentina World Cup winner Juan Foyth an hour later.
Villarreal were infuriated, but after just three minutes David Alaba slipped and touched the ball with his hand, giving them a lenient penalty.
Moreno sent Thibaut Courtois the wrong way to regain the home team’s lead and the home team clung to it.
Rodrygo Goes, Madrid looking for an equalizer, shot wide before Vinicius could have rushed into the goal and scored, before shooting over the bar.
Madrid heads to Saudi Arabia to qualify for the Spanish Super Cup, but first they face an anxious wait to see if Barcelona can drop points in the capital.
© 2023 AFP