THIS CAN’T BE REAL
Madrid’s woes continue as late Fornals strike hands Villarreal their first-ever victory at the Bernabeu
Real Madrid’s poor form continued with another uninspiring performance as the Spanish giants fell to Villarreal last night.
Despite creating several chances, Madrid failed to convert and were blanked, while Villarreal stole victory with a counter-attack that ultimately led to a beautiful finish by Pablo Fornals in the 87th minute.
Here, we look at three talking points from the game and delve deeper into the concerning questions facing Madrid.
Zidane living on borrowed time
The uncomfortable truth facing Zinedine Zidane as he digests his team’s latest setback is that anybody else would probably have been fired by now.
A first half of the season yielding just 32 points – closer to the relegation zone than first place if league leaders Barcelona win at Real Sociedad tonight – is simply unacceptable at this uniquely demanding club, whose president Florentino Perez dispensed with Vicente del Bosque and Fabio Capello immediately after they won the league title.
Zidane gained an unusual amount of credit not only by winning the La Liga and Champions League double last season, but also with an outstanding playing career to make himself as close to untouchable as anyone at the Bernabeu possibly could be. But even Zidane’s time will run out eventually, and it’s hard to see the Frenchman lasting until the end of the season if his team is knocked out of the Champions League by Paris Saint-Germain next month.
The end could come even sooner than that if Perez believes his club’s European dreams can only be saved by a new man at the helm, and Mauricio Pochettino may be receiving a phone call in the next few days.
Scoring problems haunt Los Blancos
This wasn’t a particularly bad performance from Real Madrid. Their attitude certainly can’t be reproached after they played with focus and intensity, and there was a generally solid look to the team as two players who have been singled out for criticism – Casemiro and Marcelo – returned closer to their usual standards.
The fact that Villarreal hardly created any chances speaks for itself, and although Madrid were caught out badly on the counterattack for the winning goal that could happen to any team chasing a late winner.
But the problem for Madrid, without doubt, is a lack of firepower in front of goal. Considering the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most potent goalscorers in the game’s history, that’s something of a surprise, but the Portuguese star is continuing to misfire by snatching at chances and lacking his usual ruthless arrogance in front of goal.
At least Ronaldo looks like scoring, though. Nobody else got into dangerous positions often enough to threaten Villarreal keeper Sergio Asenjo, whose best save came from a 25-yard piledriver from Marcelo.
With the January window still open for a couple of weeks, Madrid could badly use a goalscorer to give more support to Ronaldo…perhaps while Perez is calling Pochettino, he might like a word with Harry Kane as well?
Villarreal show La Liga’s depth
In the eternal debate over the respective quality of the Premier League and La Liga, the accusation is often made that the Spanish competition is a ‘two team league’ with only Barcelona and Real Madrid worth watching.
That argument overlooks the fact that Atletico Madrid won the competition three years ago, and more recently that this season Real have dropped points against Real Betis, Girona, Levante, Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao and now Villarreal – exactly the kind of teams snottily decried by those who believe English football is the only variety worth watching.
Villarreal, as they showed last night, are a very good team. In Pablo Fornals (left) and Rodri, they boast two of Spain’s best young midfielders who would already be starters for many international teams, while Carlos Bacca remains an outstanding centre forward (the kind Madrid could do with right now) and Asenjo is an excellent shot-stopper who enjoyed a redemptive afternoon by making several great saves in his first game at the Bernabeu since suffering a long-term knee injury against the same opposition last season.
This way Madrid are being punished for their dip in form makes it clear: there is plenty of quality in La Liga away from the ‘big two’, if you can be bothered to look.
Off his game: Ronaldo had a frustrating night against Villarreal
Rain on his parade: Zinedine Zidane is in the hot seat as Real Madrid have fallen out of the La Liga race.
Zidane’s time will run out eventually, and it’s hard to see the Frenchman lasting until the end of the season if his team is knocked out of the Champions League by Paris SaintGerman next month