Real Madrid sunk deeper into depression as Pablo Fornals’ late winner secured a first Liga victory for Villarreal at the Bernabeu. If Barcelona beat Real Sociedad on Sunday evening, Real Madrid will be closer to the relegation zone than first place.
Statisticians will maintain that Madrid are creating enough chances to win matches, and at some point, their results will start to reflect that. They finished the match with an “expected goals” (xG) figure of 2.50.
Villarreal are now one point behind Madrid. Los Blancos have spent the season squinting upwards at the back of Barcelona. Now they need to keep an eye on the teams behind them, too. Automatic Champions League qualification is not a certainty on current form.
Every negative result increases the importance of the Champions League tie against PSG. Like the arrival of a baby in a faltering marriage, that match is expected to paper over the cracks. The atmosphere at Madrid will become sulphurous if the Ligue 1 team prevail.
Manager rating out of 10
4 — Zinedine Zidane continues to repeat the same sentiment after every flat performance: “We are Real Madrid”. That mentality is not useful. It breeds a sense of entitlement. Real Madrid’s problems will be resolved by astute management, not by virtue of being Real Madrid. In terms of tactics, Zidane’s decision to leave Dani Ceballos out of the squad deserves scrutiny. His ingenuity would have helped Madrid to unpick Villarreal’s stodgy defence.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 6 — Outshone by his opposite number — Sergio Asenjo — who was impenetrable. But Navas did little wrong and was unlucky to concede the winning goal. His initial save from Enes Unal was sharp and the follow-up finish from Fornals was unstoppable.
DF Dani Carvajal, 6 — The full-back was quiet on his return from suspension. Made more interceptions (4) and tackles (4) than any other Madrid player, but did not contribute meaningfully in attack.
DF Raphael Varane, 6 — It is always difficult to rate Varane. He performs under the radar, efficiently clearing danger and using his pace to cover teammates. Today was no different as he turned in a solid yet unspectacular performance.
DF Nacho, 6 — Chaperoned Carlos Bacca very well in the first half, including a vital block when the Colombian was through on goal. Like Varane, he is deceptively quick across the ground. There are few better back-up defenders in the world.
DF Marcelo, 4 — The Bernabeu greeted their left-back with a smattering of whistles that did little for his confidence, which already looked low. Marcelo proceeded to serve up a wretched performance pockmarked by tame deliveries from the left. Thirteen of his crosses were unsuccessful, his worst figures in a La Liga match for Real Madrid.
MF Casemiro, 5 — A bland performance, the only memorable feature of which was a dipping shot that skidded narrowly wide of Asenjo’s goal.
MF Luka Modric, 7 — The architect of almost everything positive about Real Madrid in the first half. Created two superb chances for Ronaldo, both of which he squandered. His influence waned as the home side struggled against Villarreal’s tight defence, but he still looked the most likely to spark Madrid in to life.
MF Toni Kroos, 6 — Had more touches (114) than any other player and recycled possession efficiently. His role is to feed more creative players. In that sense, he did his job.
MF Isco, 6 — Chance creation is Isco’s remit, and Madrid created enough clear-cut chances to win several games. Rodrigo — Villarreal’s excellent young defensive midfielder — limited his influence to an extent, yet he still managed five key passes, more than any of his teammates.
FW Gareth Bale, 5 — Marca heralded the Wales international as Madrid’s saviour. “Bale against the crisis,” read the front page on Saturday morning. He struggled to influence the match and was replaced with 20 minutes remaining. Deserves more patience than others as he is still returning from injury.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 — He has now scored four La Liga goals from 94 shots. His lack of incision is becoming increasingly problematic because he does little to affect the game outside the penalty area.
FW Marco Asensio, 5 — Took up a position on the left flank with 20 minutes remaining, as Zidane switched to a 4-3-3 formation.
FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 — He could not force his way into the starting team despite scoring twice in midweek against Numancia in the Copa del Rey. Lucas is symbolic of the glass ceiling that Zidane has created in his squad. Certain players will always play, regardless of their form and the form of others.
Matt McGinn is ESPN FC’s Real Madrid blogger. Twitter: @McGinn93