A second-half penalty from Gerard Moreno saw Real Madrid beaten 2-1 at Villarreal on Saturday to leave Madrid level on points with Barcelona at the top of LaLiga ahead of Barca’s trip to Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Yeremy Pino put Villarreal ahead on 47 minutes before two penalties in three minutes — both for handball — were awarded by referee Cesar Soto Grado. Karim Benzema converted his spot kick after Juan Foyth handled inside the area before David Alaba was also penalised, giving Moreno the chance to put the home side back in front.
1. No Madrid crisis yet, but defeat comes at a bad time
There’s no shame in losing away at Villarreal: after all, Real Madrid haven’t won at the La Ceramica stadium since 2017. But the timing and manner of this defeat might just set some alarm bells ringing at the Bernabeu. Madrid were only narrowly outplayed on Saturday — Villarreal edged the game on xG (2.94 to 2.02), shots (17 to 12) and shots on target (5 to 3), with Madrid having marginally more possession — but nobody could really argue that Villarreal didn’t deserve their victory following a thrilling, end-to-end contest.
In what’s shaping up to be a tight title race — Madrid and Barcelona both locked on 38 points ahead of Barca’s trip to Atletico Madrid on Sunday — any dropped points are cause for concern, and this defeat comes ahead of a punishing schedule. Madrid travel to Saudi Arabia next week for the Spanish Supercopa, and they’ll be back at La Ceramica in 10 days’ time in the Copa del Rey round-of-16. Madrid’s next LaLiga games are a tough away trip to Athletic Club, and hosting in-form Real Sociedad in the last game this month, plus the Club World Cup in Morocco on the horizon in early February.
A defeat for Barca at Atletico would calm some nerves, but a win for Madrid’s rivals would put Xavi’s team back in the driver’s seat in the title race.
2. Madrid’s non-Spanish XI reflects changing times
Real Madrid made history before Saturday’s game had even kicked off, with coach Carlo Ancelotti picking a starting XI without a single Spanish-born player for the first time since the club’s foundation in 1902. With Dani Carvajal injured and Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the bench, the team featured three French players (Ferland Mendy, Aurelien Tchouameni and Karim Benzema), two Germans (Toni Kroos and Antonio Rudiger), two Brazilians (Eder Militao and Vinicius Junior), a Belgian (Thibaut Courtois), an Austrian (David Alaba), a Belgian (Thibaut Courtois) and a Uruguayan (Federico Valverde).
In many ways, this is simply a reflection of an increasingly globalised game, where an elite club like Madrid can target the world’s best players. But it’s also a stark reminder of how a club that, for many years, was synonymous with the national team — led, of course, by long-time Madrid and Spain captain Sergio Ramos — is currently a bit-part player when it comes to Spain. Only Carvajal and Asensio were present in Luis Enrique’s 26-man squad at the World Cup.
This wasn’t the first time Madrid have had 11 non-Spanish players out on the pitch at the same time — they ended a 2-1 Champions League defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol like that on Sept. 28, 2021 — but they’ve never before started that way.
In many ways, it’s a consequence of the club’s transfer policy in recent years. The last Spanish first-team signing was Brahim Diaz in January 2019. Since then, Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy, Eder Militao, Rodrygo Goes, David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga, Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni have all come in. And with England‘s Jude Bellingham being targeted for next summer and Brazil‘s Endrick Felipe due in 2024, it’s a trend that’s set to continue.
3. Quique Setien’s Villarreal start to take shape
Villarreal’s transition from Unai Emery to Quique Setien — after Emery quit in October to take charge at Aston Villa — was never going to be easy. The two coaches are radically different in style and philosophy, with Emery prioritising defensive solidity and pacey attacking transitions, and Setien favouring a more patient, possession-based approach.
Setien’s debut run of fixtures couldn’t have gone much worse. A run of four games without a win sparked rumours that he might be fired just two weeks after taking over. But things have settled down since then, the World Cup break came at a good time — giving Setien valuable training ground time with the players left behind — and this was Villarreal’s best performance yet under the new boss.
The return of Gerard Moreno is crucial in that regard. Moreno, who might just be Spain’s best forward and was sorely missed by the national team in Qatar, was absent from September until November with a hamstring problem. On this evidence, he’s back to his best, a constant menace for the Real Madrid defence, and that’s great news for Setien and Villarreal. A top four finish shouldn’t be out of the question given the quality of their squad.
Villarreal: Pepe Reina 7; Juan Foyth 6, Raul Albiol 8, Pau Torres 7, Alberto Moreno 7; Francis Coquelin 7, Dani Parejo 8, Alex Baena 7; Samu Chukwueze 7, Yeremy Pino 7, Gerard Moreno 8.
Subs: Alfonso Pedraza 6, Jose Luis Morales 6, Arnaut Danjuma 6, Manuel Trigueros 6.
Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois 7; Eder Militao 7, Antonio Rudiger 6, David Alaba 6, Ferland Mendy 5; Aurelien Tchouameni 5, Toni Kroos 7, Luka Modric 6; Fede Valverde 6, Vinicius Junior 6, Karim Benzema 7.
Subs: Rodrygo Goes 6, Lucas Vazquez 6, Eduardo Camavinga 6, Marco Asensio 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Gerard Moreno, Villarreal
His intelligent movement made him a nightmare for Madrid to deal with. Some glorious touches in the second half. Went off to a standing ovation.
WORST: Ferland Mendy, Real Madrid
Gave away the ball for Villarreal’s opener and was subbed off by Ancelotti when Madrid went 2-1 down.
Highlights and notable moments
The Yellow Submarine are always hard to break down at home and Saturday proved no different as they took down the defending LaLiga champions on Saturday. Their first goal, from Pino right after half-time, was lovely too…
VILLARREAL LEAD REAL MADRID 😳 pic.twitter.com/EqQxg6RdP4
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) January 7, 2023
Real Madrid fought back but Villarreal hung on for a famous win and certainly didn’t waste any time enjoying the post-match vibes…
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) January 7, 2023
… and getting to the locker room to truly celebrate.
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) January 7, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Postmatch quotes will appear here…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Villarreal: First win vs Real Madrid in LaLiga since 2018, snapping a streak of nine LaLiga games without a win vs. Madrid. (It was the club’s longest active winless run vs a single opponent in LaLiga.)
Yeremy Pino (Villarreal): His 47th minute goal snapped a streak of 19 games without scoring for Villarreal in all competitions. (It was his first goal since Aug. 21.)
Gerard Moreno (Villarreal): His last 2 goals with Villarreal were via penalty kick. Prior to that, he had scored 6 straight non PK goals. Also, Saturday marked his second career game-winning goal in LaLiga vs. Real Madrid, having previously done it in 2018 with a 93rd minute goal.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid): His 60th minute penalty was his 227th career goal in LaLiga, tying Alfredo Di Stéfano (227) for sixth and putting him just one shy of Raúl González (228) for fifth on the all-time LaLiga top scorers list
Real Madrid: Lost three of their last eight games in all competitions after starting the season unbeaten in their first 16
Villarreal: The “Yellow Submarine” won’t have long to enjoy this result, as they face a trip to Celta Vigo (Jan. 13) on Friday, followed by a Copa del Rey date with a familiar opponent, Real Madrid, on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
Real Madrid: Carlo Ancelotti’s side face a trickier run of games given their participation in the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, next week. Their next game is the Super Cup semifinal against Valencia (Wednesday, Jan. 11) and, if they win that, they’d have the final against Barcelona or Real Betis on Sunday, Jan. 15. From there, a quick trip home before the Copa del Rey round of 16 game against Villarreal on Jan. 18. Phew!