VILA-REAL (Spain): Real Madrid squandered a chance to ratchet up the pressure on La Liga leaders Barcelona in the title race as they lost 2-1 at Villarreal in a rambling display on Saturday.
Yeremi Pino and Gerard MorenoStrikes either side of Karim Benzema’s penalty were enough to give the hosts a sixth straight win in all competitions and dent the Spanish champions’ bid to retain the trophy.
Madrid remain level on points with league leaders Barcelona, ​​who face Atletico Madrid on Sunday, and this season the two domestic giants look set to challenge for the title themselves.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side caught up with Barcelona last weekend after Xavi’s side drew with Espanyol in the Catalan derby, but Madrid haven’t started 2023 particularly well.
Madrid’s narrow Spanish Cup victory over fourth-tier opponents Cacereno was followed by that rude awakening at the renovated and recently reopened Estadio de la Ceramica, their second league defeat.
Ancelotti has selected a Madrid starting line-up without a Spanish player for the first time in the club’s history, according to Spanish media.
Los Blancos have struggled at Villarreal in recent years, winning twice in 11 visits, the last in 2017 when Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata were on the scoresheet.
Quique Setien’s side, who gained confidence after a difficult start for the former Barcelona coach, largely dominated Madrid in the first half, but without the goal they were craving.
Francis Coquelin hit the post with a magnificent flick on Alberto Moreno’s cross, while Dani Parejo shot wide.
Gerard Moreno played Yeremy Pino but Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois brilliantly thwarted the Spanish winger as he tried to dribble around him.
Alex Baena drilled a wide effort and curled another narrowly as Villarreal opened up Madrid’s lackluster defense at will.
Madrid, still struggling after the World Cup break, began to force themselves towards the end of the first half.
Benzema chose poorly in the run for goal with Vinicius in support, ramming last man Raul Albiol instead of blasting the Brazilian out.
When the French striker then launched Vinicius, he was denied by veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina, following Geronimo Rulli’s move to Ajax.
Villarreal started the second half with equal vigor and this time it paid off, with the electric Pino slamming home from Moreno’s pass.
Benzema immediately had a chance to equalize but trailed a shot just inches from the far post after being slipped by Vinicius.
The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner finally equalized after the most marginal handball decision was taken against Argentina’s World Cup winner Juan Foyth after an hour.
Villarreal were furious, but just three minutes later they were awarded a soft penalty themselves when David Alaba slipped and touched the ball with his hand.
Moreno sent Thibaut Courtois the wrong way to restore the hosts’ lead and they clung to it firmly.
Rodrygo Goes fired wide as Madrid looked for an equalizer before Vinicius sprinted on goal but fired over the bar when he could have scored.
Madrid then travel to Saudi Arabia to compete in the Spanish Super Cup – but first they face an anxious wait to see if Barcelona drop points in the capital.



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