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Real Madrid's young stars step up vs. Villarreal

Gareth Bale was not on the pitch but it didn't matter for Real Madrid, defeating an inspired Villarreal side 3-2 at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.

Real Madrid edged past Villarreal 3-2 at the Bernabeu in a slow-paced, late-season La Liga encounter.

Mariano Diaz shot Madrid in front inside 85 seconds and a familiar defensive slackness allowed Gerard Moreno to equalise soon afterward, but Jesus Vallejo had Zinedine Zidane's side back in front by the break. After Mariano scored again early in the second half, the pace of the game dropped even further, with both teams having chances to score before Villarreal substitute Jaume Costa curled in late on.

Positives

A fast start meant that Madrid scored in the first half for the first time in seven games. Youngsters Jesus Vallejo and Brahim Diaz look to have played their way into coach Zidane's plans for next season, showing that these few months were not completely meaningless. Mariano's second and third La Liga goals of the season were well-timed.

Negatives

The 46,924 Bernabeu crowd was the lowest of the season in La Liga so far. Casemiro's lack of concentration leading to Gerard's equaliser, and the lack of players covering back as Costa made it 2-3 late on, were further reminders of how this season ended a long time ago for many at Madrid.

Manager Rating out of 10

 -- 7 Zidane's biggest statement was made before the game, with Gareth Bale, Dani Ceballos and Luka Modric all "rotated" out of the match-day squad for poor showings in last weekend's 0-1 defeat at Rayo Vallecano. The former galactico's judgment of his players was justified, with Brahim and Vallejo again impressing while Marcelo has responded well to a run of games at left-back.

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- He was blameless for either of Villarreal's long-range thumpers, while showing sharp reflexes to deny Samuel Chukwueze and Gerard.

DF Dani Carvajal, 8 -- Dominated down his side of the pitch, hitting the post with a swerving 20-yarder in the first half and overlapping to provide an excellent cross for Mariano's second goal.

DF Raphael Varane, 8 -- Barely put a foot wrong as both Madrid's centre-backs kept their focus even as those around them were wavering. Has sharpened up considerably in recent weeks, looking happier at club now since Zidane's return.

DF Jesus Vallejo, 8 -- Strong in the air and sharp across the ground as he again justified his selection over Nacho Fernandez, looking every bit like Zidane's third-choice CB at the moment. He was in the right place at the right time when a deflected shot fell his way to make it 2-1 and notch his first goal for the club.

DF Marcelo, 7 -- A big change from January's reverse fixture when he got a chasing from Chukwueze, with the Brazilian having maybe his best game of 2018-19. Played a key role in the second Madrid goal and almost scored himself only for Villarreal goalkeeper Andres Fernandez to save very well.

Brahim Diaz made the most of his chance to start as Real Madrid rose to a late-season challenge vs. Villarreal.

MF Fede Valverde, 6 -- Played further forward than usual and linked well with Carvajal at times, without really having enough effect on the game before being unsurprisingly withdrawn.

MF Casemiro, 6 -- Caught napping by Santi Cazorla and dispossessed where he shouldn't be in the lead-up to Villarreal's equaliser from Gerard Moreno. Otherwise prominent in helping out Marcelo with dangerman Chukwueze.

MF Toni Kroos, 7 -- Was seen snapping into tackles early as Madrid began the game with the intensity Zidane asked for, and a generally improved performance even if a couple of shots from distance did not cause Fernandez any bother.

FW Lucas Vazquez, 5 -- Long-valued at the Bernabeu for his honesty of effort and hard work, he tested the faith of even his biggest supporters with a display full of poor ball control and misplaced passes.

FW Mariano Diaz, 7 -- Did well to hold off defenders and toe-poke the ball to the net for the early opener, and then eluded the marker at the back post for a simple finish for his second. His hold-up play and general understanding with teammates wasn't at the level expected of Real Madrid players, though.

FW Brahim Diaz, 8 -- Showed more of the skills and positivity which have impressed through recent weeks, and came close to a deserved first Madrid goal with some already trademark quick feet and curlers to the back post. Zidane will also have loved the appetite for hard work that saw the teenager catch out a dithering Santi Cazorla to set up the opener.

Substitutes

MF Isco, 5 -- Replaced Valverde with Madrid 3-1 ahead, tried a few spectacular touches which did not come off.

FW Marco Asensio, 5 -- Made little impression late off the bench as the game meandered to a conclusion.

FW Vinicius Junior, 6 -- Looked sharp during first appearance in two months,  although his spot as the Blancos' favoured wonderkid is now under threat from Brahim.

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