Real Madrid 3-2 Villarreal
Villarreal had all the right moves on Sunday night just like an online poker game, but despite their potential, their all-star line-up, and their quality football, they were up against a Real Madrid that didn’t even flinch against one of La Liga’s top teams. Guti provided the magic touch and Robinho (2) and Sneijder added the goals but, more importantly, the victory was a job well done by an entire squad. With fans glued to their seats until the final whistle, Real Madrid moved one step closer to the title and left their closest rivals even further behind in the points table.
Minutes before the hour hand struck nine, while players were in the middle of their pre-match warmup -Salgado and Torres were given the nod along the wings and Baptista in place of Sneijder, while Pires was a last minute scratch due to a stomach virus- an overflowing Santiago Bernabéu burst into applause as the scoreboards read ‘Athletic Bilbao 1-1 F.C Barcelona’. It was simple math: second-place had drawn so a victory over Villarreal would increase the lead (+9 and +15) in the points table and make another major statement in La Liga. There was no better way to kick off a match that kept fans transfixed for 94 minutes.
Tribute to good football
If the stage and high expectations for good football weren’t enough, the leaders’ incredible stats this season were in store for another boost (53 points, 17 league victories, and eight straight wins). It was a match between Champions League contenders, but also the proving ground for a squad wanting respect. Rhythm, the search for high-quality touches, verticality, one scoring chance after another, talent, the dedication of each and every player… The best possible football to open a match which deserved a second round of applause from the Bernabéu.
From applause to standing ovations. The triple ‘R’ trident –Raúl, Robinho, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy- had already displayed its desire to get one past former teammate Diego López. But the highest-scoring trio in the league (27 goals) also boasts of a top-class assistant. José Mª Gutiérrez ‘Guti’ dazzled the fans. The way the second captain placed the ball from the top of the box… Opening lanes for Raúl and Van Nistelrooy… Robinho found the hole and Guti read the pass as if it had been drawn up and studied. The Brazilian international received the ball and slipped it into the bottom left side of the net fot his seventh La Liga goal. His eighth would come shortly after. Robinho dusted off Guti’s boot in celebration. The Bernabéu errupted.
Top-notch arch rival
Caution couldn’t be thrown to the wind. Villarreal had done more than enough to prove capable of answering. Hats off to Gago, who was the first line of defense and responsible for slowing down Nihat. The Yellow Submarine may have created few chances, but they certainly were dangerous ones. Cani found an opening at the top of the box and served an assist to Rossi, who curled the ball into the top right corner of Casillas’ net and brought the Madridista keeper’s streak of 574 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal to an end. The Bernabéu went silent, but soon applauded the wear-and-tear and talent of their players, who tightened their grip on the oppponent’s goal.
The Whites created on chance after another in front of an inspired Diego López. The best chance for Madrid to retake the lead came off the boots of Míchel Salgado, who put on another display of commitment and dedication. Guti pressed forward to the goalline and left a perfect ball for number ‘2’ to unleash a powerful strike on which the Yellow’s keeper managed to save. More applause for Guti’s magic and Salgado’s integrity. Cheers and chants quickly turned to whistles and complaints when referee Álvarez Izquierdo failed to call a penalty in Van Nistelrooy’s favor.
The first half was a perfect demonstration of offensive football, and the second confirmed that Real Madrid is the team in top form and that Villarreal have plenty of options to have a great season and are worthy of third-place status. The Madridistas exited the tunnel with the same intensity and, just like in the first half, took eight minutes to score, 2-1.
This time the leader showed off its counterattack. Guti began the play with a tremendous pass to Sergio Ramos after evading two defenders with one touch. The defender shot forward to the edge of the opponent’s box and passed to Raúl, who followed up along the right wing. The captain’s strike was saved by an ever-more confident Diego López. Ramos unsuccessfully tried to knock in the rebound, but Guti was there for the second ricochet, which Diego López also stopped. With the fans on their feet, the third time was the charm as Robinho hammered the ball into the back of the net. The Bernabéu again exploded in ecstasy.
But there was still plenty of football to be played and Villarreal had no intention of throwing in the towel. In the 75th minute, Capdevilla capitalized on a rebound in the six to score his first of the season. A poor shot by Josico became a great one for the Yellow Submarine’s number ‘5’. The match was all leveled up, 2-2, but the key to this leader is the combination of individual talent, group effort, and winning attitude. Honorable mention for Raúl, whose fighting spirit provoked the corner which ended in the Madridista’s third of the night. Gago provided the assist to Sneijder, who had just come off the bench. The Dutchman, a specialist against Villarreal, beat the defence’s last man before doing the same to Diego López. The Santiago Bernabéu went wild as the team gathered for a group embrace. The best team in the league now has 17 straight victories in its indomitable stadium and is one day closer to the title.
REAL MADRID: Iker Casillas; Míchel Salgado (Drenthe, min.80), Sergio Ramos, Cannavaro, Miguel Torres; Gago, Guti, Baptista (Sneijder, m.73); Robinho (Higuaín, m.88), Raúl, and Van Nistelrooy.
VILLARREAL: Diego López; Javi Venta, Cygan, Godin, Capdevila; Senna, Bruno (Josico, m.58), Cazorla; Cani (Angel, m.58) Nihat (Tomasson, m.74), and Rossi.
1-0 (m.9): Robinho
1-1 (m.16): Rossi
2-1 (m.56): Robinho
2-2 (m.75): Capdevila.
3-2 (m.76): Sneijder
Referee: Álvarez Izquierdo. Booked Gago, Godin, and Senna.
Notes: Matchday 21 of La Liga
Played at: Santiago Bernabéu.