Real Madrid grabbed a 2-2 draw with Villarreal in a pulsating game which both teams will feel they could have won at Estadio de Ceramica on Sunday night.
Villarreal were twice in front, leading as late as the 86th minute, before Gareth Bale scored the second of his two equalisers for a Madrid team which was dominant for the majority of the action.
There were plenty of positives and negatives for both teams to extract, but we can only start by hailing another excellent performance from the biggest plus of Madrid’s season so far… that man Bale:
BALE BACK IN BUSINESS
Perhaps the most unexpected storyline of the new La Liga season so far has been the resurgence of Bale, with the flying winger resisting a forceful push out of the Bernabeu exit door to once again become a key protagonist for Madrid.
After a summer which saw head coach Zinedine Zidane do everything possible to rid himself of the Welshman, who nearly ended up moving to the backwaters of China, a long injury list has given the French coach no choice but to hand Bale a starting spot – and he has seized the surprise second chance with both hands.
Bale burst into the new season with an excellent assist for Karim Benzema to spark the opening day victory over Celta Vigo, and he was even more influential on this occasion by rescuing his team with two well-taken equalisers.
More than that he was a strong presence throughout the game, in stark contrast to the subdued figure who meandered through many outings last season.
90+4'| Second yellow card for Gareth Bale. #RMLiga— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) September 1, 2019
He started on the left wing and later moved to the right, but was unfazed by that positional change and provided a steady stream of probing runs and incisive crosses.
Unfortunately his night was spoiled by a dismissal for two stoppage time yellow cards, meaning he will miss the post-international break home game against Levante, but now there can be no doubt that against the odds he still has a big role to play at Real Madrid.
MADRID’S SOFT UNDERBELLY EXPOSED
On the balance of chances this was a game that Madrid should have won with a fair degree of comfort, with home keeper Andres Fernandez far busier than Thibaut Courtois, but from another perspective Zidane’s men were relieved to come away with a point after their defensive frailties saw them twice fall behind.
This, of course, is nothing new. Los Blancos conceded a shocking 46 league goals last season, and their vulnerability at the back was on display again as recently as last weekend when Real Valladolid netted a late equaliser to steal a point from the Bernabeu.
1 - Gareth Bale is one of the two Real Madrid players to score a brace and sent off in the same LaLiga game in the 21st century, after Cristiano Ronaldo against Malaga in January 2010. Critical. pic.twitter.com/BecEeOyseL— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 1, 2019
Even though they were apparently in complete control for long periods of this game, easily dominating possession, Real never really looked safe at the back. Their inability to defend against fast transitions through the midfield, gifting far too much space in the centre of the pitch, means that any opposition will always fancy themselves to grab a goal.
And until that weakness is truly addressed by Zidane – who now urgently faces the task of proving himself as a tactician – they will surely be unable to gather the consistent results required to mount a serious title challenge.
WILL VILLARREAL EVER WIN?
Villarreal must be wondering if they will ever register their first victory of the season.
Javi Calleja’s team have led on seven occasions during their three games so far in this campaign, but somehow they only have two points.
In their season opener against Granada, the Yellow Submarine were up 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-2 before being pegged back for a 4-4 draw. Then at Levante they were 1-0 ahead but conceded two penalties to lose 2-1, and now in this game Villarreal were leading 1-0 and 2-1 but again had to settle for just a point.
#VillarrealRealMadrid | 2-1 🚨 72' | GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Moi Gómez fires home an @javiontiveros39 ball across the box. 💪💛 pic.twitter.com/r8GOLEAF8b— Villarreal CF English (@Eng_Villarreal) September 1, 2019
Some of their approach play is outstanding and the squad is gifted with great technicians, but like Madrid they are bugged by a defensive frailty which has condemned them to a tally of far fewer points than they really should have claimed.
It was a similar story last season, when 52 goals conceded saw them in serious relegation trouble before a late burst of victories, and Calleja’s men must add greater game management skills if they want to fulfil their huge potential over the next few months.
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