Karim Benzema 8/10, Gareth Bale injured as Real Madrid only claim draw to Villarreal
Real Madrid started 2019 by falling further off the pace in La Liga with a 2-2 draw at relegation-threatened Villarreal on Thursday evening.
After Santi Cazorla curled the home side ahead early, Madrid appeared to have taken control thanks to headed goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane. But there was one final twist to come, the ex-Arsenal schemer scoring a rare header himself to equalise late on for Villarreal.
Santi Solari's team remain fourth in the table, but with their game in hand used up they are now seven points behind as the season nears the halfway point.
Karim Benzema was outstanding up front in the first half -- while senior players from Sergio Ramos to Toni Kroos to Luka Modric showed their experience and quality as Madrid reacted excellently to Cazorla's early opener.
Marcelo was (once again) lost at sea against Villarreal's exciting young winger Samuel Chukwueze, while Casemiro was well off the pace in his return from injury. Another calf problem for Gareth Bale will be a big worry, as will a general lack of energy and ideas in the team in the second half.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- The quick and ruthless response to going behind early suggested Solari had got his preparation spot-on for what has historically been a tricky first fixture of the calendar year. But his team sat very deep once they went ahead, and taking off both Modric and Kroos did nothing to stop Villarreal from taking control and deserving their equaliser.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating.)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Could do nothing about Cazorla's curler which opened the scoring, and was quickly off his line to spot danger on other occasions.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 -- Involved in the build-up to Madrid's first goal, but both Villarreal goals came when he was caught out of position in what was an uncharacteristically sloppy performance.
DF Raphael Varane, 8 -- A soaring leap and well-directed header put Madrid up 2-1 and brought his first goal since last summer's World Cup finals. Very solid in the second half when the team defended too deep and invited pressure onto them.
DF Sergio Ramos, 7 -- Won't have enjoyed being nutmegged by his former Spain teammate Cazorla early, but did especially well when helping out Marcelo against emerging starlet Chukwueze. Got his customary booking for jumping with arm raised against Villarreal sub Carlos Bacca.
DF Marcelo, 5 -- Turned much too easily as Chukwueze created the opening goal, and never really got close to the razor-sharp Nigerian for the remainder of the game.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- Denied a goal by a correct offside flag in the first half, but the fact he was popping up in the opposition penalty area at all showed he is returning to top energy and influence. Not as involved after the break, but Madrid were worse after he left.
MF Casemiro, 6 -- Looked very rusty in his first La Liga start in almost two months Was caught out of position on the opening goal, and was deservedly booked for hacking down Pablo Fornals after the Villarreal playmaker had easily skipped past him.
MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- A perfectly measured free kick for Varane's headed goal was in keeping with a well-calibrated performance as he and Modric helped Madrid control the midfield in the first stanza. Although he was part of the general drop-off after the break, it was still strange to see him taken off when Madrid needed inspiration for a late winner.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 8 -- A clever run and excellent chipped cross that created the equaliser for Benzema was the highlight of another typically hard-working performance from Solari's favourite player. Almost scored a wonder solo goal from midfield in the second half, but was denied by home goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- His back-post header was a typical centre-forward's goal, and the highlight of an excellent all-round No. 9 display in the first half. Despite both Villarreal centre-backs attempting to stop him with crude challenges from behind, Benzema was impressive here.
FW Gareth Bale, 5 -- An unhappy return to the scene of his Madrid debut in September 2013, with the Welshman struggling to get into the game at all and then leaving at half-time with yet another calf muscle problem.
MF Isco, 7 -- Looked keen to impress after entering at the break for Bale but stood out more for work rate and covering in defence than going forward. Did almost snatch a late goal with a low drive which was stopped by Asenjo at 2-2.
MF Federico Valverde, 7 -- The young Uruguayan replaced Modric just after the hour mark and provided more energy and athleticism in the centre, but (understandably) less quality on the ball than the Croatian Ballon d'Or holder.
FW Vinicius Junior, N/R -- Sent on late for Kroos when Solari realised his team needed some pace up top.