Football Features

“Brilliant Benzema” blunted – Why Villarreal’s draw with Real Madrid should make Man Utd very nervous

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:36, 25 September 2021

In a tense and balanced night of football, Villarreal held Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Los Blancos extend their lead atop La Liga by a point but their five game winning run comes to an end and despite the best efforts of La Liga’s new top dog Karim Benzema, they were the second-best side today as Unai Emery’s Villarreal more than matched them.

The Yellow Submarine were equal participants in the match and were absolutely dominant in the first-half. The second period was more even as Madrid brought Eduardo Camavinga on to stiffen the midfield; but in the end Thibaut Courtois had the more serious saves to make.

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Across La Liga and the Champions League, Real Madrid have scored 7 goals after the 84th minute. And as the match entered “Madrid time,” there was a definite sense that, at any moments, Los Blancos could conjure a goal from nothing. Even a tasty Villarreal counter-attack was dealt with by Nacho with minimal fuss and the ball quickly recycled for Madrid to get back on the attack.

Madrid’s fearsome displays this season have been so relentless and consistent that when Vinicius conjured half a yard to shoot, you genuinely believed he would bury it. Or when Karim Benzema was in possession on the edge of the box and almost the entire Villarreal team swarmed around the fabulous Frenchman, you felt certain that he would slip a pass wide and find a team-mate in acres of space to score.

But neither happened, because Villarreal defended so stoutly and played with such composure. Benzema came into the contest with 8 goals and 7 assists in just 6 games in La Liga; it’s the greatest start any player has ever made to a season, yet tonight he was bottled up by Raul Albiol and Pau Torres who marshalled him as though he were any mere mortal.

Real Madrid are Spain’s top scorers with almost twice as many goals (21) as the next highest scorer (Valencia with 12) and in their last game they sledgehammered six past Mallorca with Marco Asensio bagging a hat-trick; but to watch them against Villarreal you wouldn’t know any of this. Geronimo Rulli only had two saves to make, two!

And it wasn’t just a rearguard display, either. The way Villarreal negotiated Madrid’s high-press with unerring confidence recalled nothing less than Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Their counter-attacks repeated and rapid, and Los Blancos really struggled to live with them rather than the other way around.

Unai Emery had his side completely unafraid of their opponents, and with just a tiny bit more quality in attack (like, say, a fit Gerard Moreno) one could easily see how The Yellow Submarine could have walked away with a historic win tonight.

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This all bodes pretty badly for Manchester United, who face Villarreal in the Champions League on Wednesday. Like Real Madrid they have a team that focuses on attacking through sheer overwhelming individual quality, and indeed defending in much the same way.

However, unlike Real Madrid, they are in terrible form. They come into the game against Villarreal having lost three of their last four. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come under pressure following big summer spending and his team is not producing the results or performances they should be doing.

That’s bad mojo to bring into a clash against the hyper-organised Villarreal, especially when they already lost one of their “gimmie” group games away to Young Boys so a second defeat with a double header against Atalanta to come would put United at genuine risk of Champions League group stage elimination for the second straight season.

Of course, United have an array of potent forwards but if the supply to them is cut off, then what use are they? Remember Unai Emery masterminded a win for Villarreal against Manchester United in the Europa League final a few short months ago by simply marking Bruno Fernandes and daring the other United players to win without him.

Watching them shut down the brilliant Karim Benzema tonight, a man in truly historic form, should make Bruno Fernandes very nervous at the same thing happening again. Of course this could be Jadon Sancho’s big chance to step up, and if Juan Foyth is out of the game (he left tonight’s game injured) then perhaps that is the glint of light at the end of the tunnel that United need.

It’s a fading light though because Villarreal are a phenomenal side and unlike Real Madrid, United will be fielding one or two midfielders that are intensely sub-par at the base of their 4-2-3-1 formation. Of course Paul Pogba could play there and is great, but anyone else who plays next to him is average at best and Villarreal just mangled Casemiro, Modric and Camavinga so “McFred” would be light work.

Everyone will be making the joke that all four of Manchester United’s Champions League games against Villarreal have been 0-0 and it’ll be hard for them to change that, but watching Unai Emery’s side tonight against Real Madrid tonight, it’s honestly Villarreal who you’d give the better chance of scoring and winning than The Red Devils.