Football Features

Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid: A “fundamentally tired and unimaginative” Los Blancos are held at the Ceramica

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:45, 21 November 2020

In a dry afternoon of football, Villarreal and Real Madrid played out a tight 1-1 draw.

There was little in the way of goalmouth action as Los Blancos took a very early lead but were pegged back by a Villarreal side that exposed their two potentially season-wrecking flaws.

Real Madrid had tried to ride that early lead to a 1-0 win, much in the same way they did repeatedly at the back-end of 2019/20 when they ground their way to winning La Liga.

In many ways, the approach made sense. Zinedine Zidane’s side have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last 8 games and last time out they got slapped for four goals against Valencia.

But that was a Real Madrid side that was, for the most part, at full strength. Key players, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema in particular, remained fit throughout. Neither man was involved at the Estadio Ceramica.

Without those pillars of the side, Madrid lack of the superhuman mental strength needed to play that kind of grinding football. Playing so close to the edge with such a small advantage requires a massive amount of focus and that is where warriors like Ramos excel.

Yes Madrid conceded just the one goal, but in truth it should have been more. Villarreal cut them open on more than one occasion, especially after Samu Chukwueze and Pervis Estupinan came off the bench to add a real sense of thrust in attack.

Those two combined to win the penalty that drew Villarreal level. and when Take Kubo came on later he added even more energy and invention and could have won it for Unai Emery’s men in stoppage time.

Emery really coached this game superbly. He kept his most electric talents for the second-half, knowing that Madrid would come out with a furious energy but that a veteran squad with injury issues would tire as the match progressed.

And sure enough, that’s what happened. Yes his plan wouldn’t have involved conceding after just 101 seconds to Mariano, but for the first hour of the game Villarreal were handling Madrid attacks with ease and moving the ball around nicely. They couldn’t get much penetration, such was the Madrid work-rate, but again, without their captain Madrid’s ability to play at that intensity for that amount of time is decreased.

So Los Blancos tired, and gaps started to open up. On came the cavalry for Villarreal and the chances flowed. The Yellow Submarine ended the match with over twice as many shots as their visitors, and had they been a bit more accurate with their shooting (they hit the target just once: the penalty) they could have taken all three points today.

For the first time in what feels like forever, Unai Emery outcoached one of Spain’s big two sides to precision, but the more troubling issue long-term is Real Madrid and their problems in attack.

Madrid had just six shots against Villarreal. Six. The only one on target was their goal, meaning that for the 89 minutes after Mariano scored Los Blancos couldn’t get hit the target with their measely four attempts. And yes, Benzema was absent, but €120m Eden Hazard was not and yet even with the Belgian on the field, and Vinicius Jr. coming off the bench, Madrid were anaemic in attack.

So far this season Madrid have taken 13.22 shots per-match, just a little bit less than Barcelona and Atlético Madrid’s 13.71. Yet both Barcelona (2.14) and Atleti (2.43) have scored significantly more goals-per-match than Madrid’s measly 1.67.

There can be no denying it: Madrid have a real problem in attack. The thing is they also have a real problem in defence, where they’ve made the most errors leading to shots of any side in La Liga (4) and that none of them resulted in goals is only thanks to the excellence of Thibaut Courtois, but piling everything on the goalkeeper does lead to him cracking, as he did today when he panicked and ran out to bring down Chukwueze. Villarreal exposed Los Blancos at the back, and made plain that this is a fundamentally tired and unimaginative Real Madrid side.

Solving these dual problems would be one of Zinedine Zidane’s greatest managerial feats.