Real Madrid risk falling further behind in La Liga after a cheeky late chip from Pablo Fornals saw Villarreal escape the Santiago Bernabeu with a shock 1-0 win on Saturday.
Fornals struck with three minutes left to leave Zinedine Zidane’s side fourth and a whopping 16 points behind runaway league leaders Barcelona, a deficit which will turn into 19 should Barca win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Here, we analyse the performance of one bright spark for the home side – Gareth Bale.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 25
Passes – 17
Key passes – 2
Dribbles – 2
Dispossessed – 0
The last time Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo played in a two up front, they tortured Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
Indeed, the Wales star produced one of the finishes of this season and laid on an assist for Ronaldo while overall the performance in Dortmund was Madrid’s best this term.
Zinedine Zidane pinned his hopes on that dynamic combination baring fruit against another team in yellow as he deployed a 4-3-1-2 with Isco in behind – this time, only Bale turned up.
That his substitution in the 70th minute was met by collective jeers from the Bernabeu crowd is justification for the forward’s impact.
He dropped deep to contribute in the early attacking phases with Isco, peeled off his marker to provide an aerial threat in the box and leaned on his incisive passing ability to thread threatening balls into Ronaldo.
Bale was the fulcrum of their forward play and his somewhat surprising chemistry with Isco routinely had Villarreal’s backline in retreat.
Truthfully, the 28-year-old was the sharpest of any Madrid attacker and he didn’t appear tired when brought off in a double sub as Isco also exited.
The reality is that a wasteful Ronaldo should have been the man swapped out and ultimately Zidane paid the price for a strange switch which sucked the tempo out of Real.
Yes, there is an argument Bale’s injury record requires a degree of protection but a player of his quality shouldn’t be substituted.
14th min DISALLOWED GOAL: A Toni Kroos corner from the right drops onto the head of a crowded Ronaldo but the ball pops to Bale at the backpost. However, his close-range header is flagged offside to deny Real an opener. Marginal decision.
28th min LINK-UP PLAY: Breathtaking from Bale on the counter. The Welshman is the outball on the right as Dani Carvajal clears a corner and his first touch is to cut inside his man before spreading the ball to Luka Modric with the outside of his foot. The Croatian releases Ronaldo who just has Sergio Asenjo to beat but his delicately lifted effort drifts wide.
30th min PASS TO RONALDO: Superbly weighted ball from Bale to Ronaldo and the Portuguese surges into the box but his thunderous strike from the right is narrowly wide of the post and slams into the side-netting.
35th min PENALTY SHOUT: Nice interplay between Marcelo and Kroos allows the former space to whip in a cross to the near post from the left. Bale gets in front of his man to glance a header across goal and although the connection is far from clean, the ball strikes Alvaro Gonzalez on the arm. The official waves away the appeals for a penalty, though.
43rd min SHOT: Isco glides through the middle and feeds Bale who just creeps onside outside the box. The forward turns back onto his weaker right foot but his curled effort sails wide. On his left, that likely flies in.
70th min SUBSTITUTION: Bale and Isco are brought off in a double substitution as Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio are brought on.
Madrid’s only genuine source of threat in attack and his link-up play with Isco impressed. Ultimately, the substitutions were bizarre from Zidane and they sucked the life out of the hosts.
Perhaps if Bale had remained on the pitch the winner would have been Madrid’s rather than Villarreal’s.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
Spartak Moscow are at the centre of a racism row after their official Twitter account posted a video of three black players in training alongside a caption which translates as “See how chocolates melt in the sun”.
The message was accompanied by several emojis of laughing faces and chocolate bars above a 13-second clip showing the players, reported to be Brazilian trio Fernando, Luiz Adriano and Pedro Rocha, smiling while stretching in sunny conditions.
The anti-discrimination group Kick It Out condemned the Russian club, writing a response on Twitter which read: “This social media post from the official account of Spartak Moscow only continues to highlight the prejudices towards black people in Russia.
“It is a reminder, that along with the whole of football, there is significant work to do to eradicate racism of all forms from the sport.”
Piara Powar, executive director of football Against Racism in Europe, believes the message from Spartak is troubling as Russia builds towards hosting the World Cup later this year.
He told BBC Sport: “Racism is one of the biggest issues Russia faces in the year they host the World Cup. References like this show how some minorities are seen by some in the country.
“For Russia’s biggest club to tolerate and then celebrate racist references of this kind is wrong.”
The controversial Twitter post was later deleted from Spartak’s official page.
It is the third time in a matter of months Spartak have been embroiled in a controversy over racism.
They were ordered to partially close their academy stadium for one fixture by UEFA, which found some of the club’s fans were guilty of racist behaviour towards Liverpool striker Bobby Adekanye during a Youth League match in September.
Last month, Spartak defender Leonid Mironov was charged with racially abusing Reds striker Rhian Brewster following an incident during the return UEFA Youth League clash between the sides at Prenton Park.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has revealed he turned the chance to become Manchester United manager after Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit in 2013.
Klopp was being lined up ahead of Ferguson’s retirement but the then Borussia Dortmund coach rejected their advances in favour of continuing his battle with Bayern Munich.
The German left the club in 2015 before later taking up the post at Anfield following Brendan Rodgers’ departure.
In an exclusive interview with Liverpool legend and Sky Sports pundit Phil Thompson, Klopp said: “I’m a football romantic. I’m confident but not as confident as other managers, thinking this club will call, that club will call.
“A lot of clubs called and I said ‘No, no chance, I need to make a break now’. Even my wife knew, if Liverpool is calling, I go.
“And that’s really difficult to explain. Yes there was interest – Manchester United, yes they were interested a year or a year-and-a-half before, but it didn’t feel right.
“I couldn’t say Man United is not my club, it didn’t feel right.
“When Liverpool called, I had no chance. It was actually too early for my plans.
“I said, ‘Wow, come on!’ But then coming here and feeling the spirit immediately, it was just, for me, a match in heaven.”
Liverpool are involved in an attacking match made in heaven when they host runaway Premier League leaders and United’s neighbours Manchester City on Sunday.
The Reds were battered 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium in September but with the mitigating circumstance of Sadio Mane’s controversial sending off. And Klopp is hoping for revenge at Anfield this weekend.
“When I think about the game on Sunday, I cannot forget the first we played against them,” he added.
“It changed the season for City in a positive way and gave us a little knock for a few days and weeks.
“That was unlucky, it was an open game. Nobody cares about that anymore but it’s the truth. We got a red card, which was the worst place in world football to be one down – wow! No chance that day.
“We have to pay back, in a football way. We have such a strong group here, they really love working together, if you would have seen the sessions this week they are on fire.
“I love that, but that doesn’t mean we will win against Man City, but that does mean we can be really difficult for City.”
Liverpool will be taking on City without another influential figure with the spectre of Philippe Coutinho’s exit looming over this clash.
Klopp said this on Coutinho deal y’day: “By the way, final decision, if I would have said 'no way', the club would have said: 'OK.'” 1/3— Chris Bascombe (@_ChrisBascombe) January 13, 2018
The Brazilian joined Barcelona in a £142million deal earlier this month after a protracted transfer saga and the Reds boss insists the club had no option but sell now.
He said: “We had no chance to use him in the second part of the season. We all tried everything to convince him.
“I cannot give you the details, but we tried all you can imagine, believe me.
“It started in the summer. That was the problem, it was really late. Philippe says, and it’s 100 per cent the truth, I really believe that he wouldn’t have left Liverpool for any other club in the world.
“He was convinced he wanted to go, so in the second half of the season we couldn’t have used him.
“Having a player of his quality and bringing him out there [to play], but his head is already away, and then he plays at 40 percent, gets injured or not, it’s a difficult situation for the whole squad.
“And so, that was the moment, we went okay, we have to do it. To make the best for us. For sure, he can fulfil his dream, but we are still here and it’s a big business with the money.”