Real Madrid: Ups, Downs And Observations From The Draw Against Villarreal

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Real Madrid, Raphael Varane
Real Madrid, Raphael Varane (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid played out a 1-1 draw against Villarreal, with a squad that wasn’t at full strength due to injuries to key players.

Real Madrid returned from the international break with a depleted squad, that didn’t include captain Sergio Ramos, top goalscorer Karim Benzema, Fede Valverde, Casemiro, to name a few. Coming into it, Real Madrid fans didn’t necessarily expect their team to run all over the Yellow Submarine — a team that has been great this season, losing a single time and being second in the table.

That didn’t happen, either. However, we saw a Real Madrid side, that — although had their problems in the second half, didn’t look as bad as everyone thought they’d look. If anything, they looked pretty sharp, defensively and offensively. Real Madrid came away with a single point in a fairly entertaining game for the neutral. Here I have a couple of ups, and downs, and just observations from the draw.

The Ups

Solid defense

The defense — especially in the first half, was very sharp, mostly well-positioned and everyone did well closing all Villarreal outlets at all times. The goal didn’t look to be at risk for the most part, even without Casemiro, which was good to see. The return of Dani Carvajal played a major role in this. Finally, after almost two months and eight games, we saw an actual right-back start at the position for Real Madrid. It showed.

Dani Carvajal played on his return as if he never left: aggressive in pressing, sturdy in possession, defended particularly well, pocketed Moi Gomez, went forward and provided overloads for the deep-lying midfielders and got the assist for Mariano’s goal. He brought back the stability and balance in that right-back spot, which was so important for the team.

Other than Carvajal, the whole defense pretty much had a solid game. At least a solid half, even with all the space left behind Kroos and Modric in the second half. We’ll get to that.

Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez started at centre-back spots and played well there, which was good to see. As we’ve seen with so many instances in the past, the defense usually crumbles without Sergio Ramos. It didn’t against Villarreal — a team which has been doing well going forward this season — which was relieving. Nacho had a tendency to go forward from his days of playing at the full-back positions, but luckily, it didn’t hurt the team. It was alarming, but it didn’t hurt the team.

Ferland Mendy also worked very well in the defense, particularly. Going forward, I felt that he was a little sloppy and inefficient, but nothing to be worried about. He helped escape Villarreal’s counter-pressing on many occasions and worked really hard to stop Gerard Moreno, who played at the right-wing spot. It was a good duel for the neutral, and it showed how strong Mendy can be defensively.

A lot of positives from the first half

The two things that I loved from the first half were — intensity and sharpness on all fronts, no exceptions. As I explained above, Real Madrid were great defensively in the first half. But it wasn’t just individual defensive performances. It was the whole team that did very well. Lucas Vazquez came back at many points to help the team negate the effect of Moi Gomez. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos acted as a great double pivot, that, although looked flexible at times, did what they had to in the absence of Casemiro, again, at least in the first half.

Leave that aside for a second, hardly ever have I seen Real Madrid perform this sharply after an international break! They usually take their time to grow into the game, but on Saturday, that wasn’t the case.

The team did very well in escaping Villarreal’s press too. There was a sequence at the 17th minute where Real Madrid’s press-resistance was tested to the fullest, and it was so good to see. Luka Modric, Mendy, Odegaard, Kroos and Eden Hazard (who wasn’t really involved that much in the game, but helped a lot in offensive transition and escaping the press) all worked really well to build from the back and then move the ball forward while elegantly escaping the press in the process.

Toni Kroos was fantastic in the first half. He had an almost perfect first half in the sense that he was the deepest midfielder and he picked out passes from the back, helped Real Madrid create and have some press resistance in the defensive third.

Martin Odegaard provided movement between the lines and did very well to pick out overloads from Mendy in counters (and Kroos to Carvajal). Mariano Diaz (more on him later) looked hungry, and tried to make a mark with all his touches and movements, although was caught offside at certain occasions. He also scored a wonderful header on the 2nd minute, classic Mariano style. Lucas Vazquez was fine as well, providing the attacking line with a lot of width and then tracked back to help out defensively. Just pretty good stuff from Los Blancos. It was not perfect. No, no, far from it. But, as I said, a lot of positives came out of it, surprisingly.