Premier League flop helps Villarreal beat Real Madrid
Roberto Soldado’s early strike proved to be enough as Real Madrid lost 1-0 to Villarreal to miss the chance to keep the pressure on the top two in La Liga this evening.
Real had the chance to boost their title hopes after Barcelona had been held by Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, but Soldado delivered the only goal in the eighth minute to leave Rafael Benitez’s side five points behind the champions and Atletico Madrid.
It was a strong start from the hosts, and they were agonisingly close to taking the lead when Jonathan dos Santos struck the post after Cedric Bakambu had beaten three visiting defenders.
Villarreal did not have to wait much longer for the breakthrough as Luka Modric lost possession to Bruno, and Bakambu then quickly played in Soldado, who kept his composure to slot past Keylor Navas.
Real looked short of their best for much of the first half, but they could have been back level had Karim Benzema prevented a half-volley from drifting over the crossbar following excellent work by Gareth Bale out wide. Benitez’s defence continued to look vulnerable, and the away side were fortunate not to fall further behind before the break when Bakambu dragged a shot wide of the post after sprinting clear of Pepe.
It soon became clear that Real had been reinvigorated by the interval as they piled the pressure on early in the second half, but Benzema twice missed chances to equalise as he volleyed wide moments before failing to find the target with a header.
As Villarreal looked set to prepare for a long spell on the back foot, Soldado threatened to double the lead with a powerful strike from 25 yards which Navas was forced to push to safety.
No player caused more problems for the home defence than Bale, who evaded a couple of challenges on the right wing before seeing Alphonse Areola tip his low effort past the post. Marcelino’s side balanced attack and defence impressively to frustrate Real for long spells, but they should have seen their lead cancelled out when Benzema headed wide from Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross.
The desperation was clear from Real as they committed more men forward in the closing stages, but James Rodriguez curling inches wide of the post was the closest that Los Blancos would come to an equaliser as Villarreal held on to move one point behind fourth-placed Celta Vigo.