While Real Madrid might have been handed the chance to find a route back to the top of the La Liga table on Saturday afternoon, Los Blancos suffered a shock 2-1 loss against Villarreal.
In what turned out to be a lively second-half affair from Castellon, goals from Yeremy Pino and Gerard Moreno helped the Yellow Submarine extend on their eye-catching return from the World Cup’s festive break.
However, although Madrid might have briefly dragged themselves level as attacking talisman Karim Benzema swept home on the hour mark, it really was an afternoon to forget for Carlo Ancelotti’s superstars.
Knowing that they have handed Barcelona the chance to widen their buffer to a three-point advantage when their bitter rivals make the trip to Atletico on Sunday night, Saturday’s 2-0 loss was just the second La Liga defeat that the Whites have suffered this season.
In what could turn out to be a crucial slip-up from the Spanish heavyweights, we have taken a look at the main talking points.
A top-four charge for the Yellow Submarine?
Although it might be Saturday’s guests who steal most of the headlines, there is no doubt that Villarreal deserve a huge amount of praise for another stellar post-World Cup display.
Despite heading into the festive interval with just a trio of La Liga victories from their final 10 attempts, it appears that Quique Setien’s men have found some much-needed stability on either side of opening the New Year.
Extending on their Copa del Rey adventure earlier in the week thanks to a thumping 5-1 romp at home against Segunda outfit Cartagena, the one-time Barcelona boss should now have at least a top-six finish at the top of their agenda in 2023.
Reall impressing with another rugged display on Saturday afternoon, Villarreal have now won each of their four straight domestic matchups across all formats since returning from the World Cup break.
With just their goal difference briefly keeping them outside the Champions League spots, Setien’s high-flying squad now have a real platform to build on during the second-half of the campaign.
A critical blow for Los Blancos?
While Saturday’s 2-0 loss might have been just the second La Liga defeat that Real Madrid have suffered this season, the Spanish heavyweights have shown some signs of a brief domestic wobble on either side of the break.
Knowing that they have now handed their bitter rivals the chance to widen their buffer at the top of the La Liga table on Sunday night, Los Blancos have now won just a pair of their previous five top-flight showdowns.
With that run highlighted by a stunning 3-2 loss away at Rayo Vallecano on November 7th, Ancelotti will be desperate for his side to find some much-needed stability in 2023.
Although the one-time AC Milan boss might have seen his superstars make real history as they were crowned both La Liga and European champions, it looks like Madrid should face a real challenge this time around.
While Ancelotti might be glad to see that Benzema has gotten back to his free-scoring best after once again finding the net here, the 63-year-old will have a growing headache over his side’s extended defensive issues.
Madrid’s extended struggles in Castellon
While Real Madrid might have been desperate to lay down a title marker on Saturday afternoon, Los Blancos would have been more than aware that they hold a largely downbeat record against the top-four hopefuls.
Having to settle for back-to-back 0-0 stalemates when they faced off against Villarreal on La Liga duties last season, their 2-1 loss here means that the defending champions have won just three of their last 13 top-flight meetings against the Yellow Submarine.
However, with that extended blip stemming all the way back to April 2016, Madrid won’t have much time to feel sorry for themselves as they face a quick turnaround ahead of opening their Copa del Rey quarter-final adventure.
While Ancelotti’s side might return to the Spanish capital in a few days time, the Whites will face another stern test when they welcome Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Villarreal: Reina, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Moreno, Coquelin, Parejo, Baena, Chukwueze, Moreno, Pino
Subs: Danjuma, Morales, Pedraza, Trigueros
Real Madrid: Courtios, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba, Mendy, Kroos, Tchouameni, Modric, Vinicius, Benzema, Valverde
Subs: Camavinga, Asensio, Rodrygo
Goals: Villarreal: Pino (47′), Moreno (63′ pen) – Real Madrid: Benzema (60′ pen)
Yellow Cards: Villarreal: Reina, Albiol, Torres, Baena – Real Madrid: Camavinga
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Cesar Soto Grado