Gareth Bale scored on his Real Madrid debut and Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net as well, but Villarreal made their high-profile guests battle for a draw on Saturday at El Madrigal; but for better finishing the Yellow Submarine might have taken the full three points.
Bale, a surprise starter when the team-sheets came out prior to kick-off, lined up on the right of the Madrid attack but was largely anonymous until the 38th minute, when he stabbed Daniel Carvajal’s cross inside the far post beyond the reach of Sergio Asenjo.
But the goal only restored level terms in this coastal city, as Cani had given the hosts the lead after only 21 minutes.
It was the least they deserved at the time.
Having dominated the opening exchanges and tested Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez on numerous occasions in the early going, Villarreal finally took the lead when Cani, having accepted a pass from a swiveling Jonathan Pereira, stuffed the ball into goal from near the penalty marker.
Pereira and Giovani dos Santos would have several more chances to extend the lead before Bale struck, and after the restart Madrid were able to settle into the match rather comfortably—at least for a while.
Ronaldo, who had also retained free-kick duty despite Bale’s presence in the starting XI, put the guests in front shortly after the hour-mark when Karim Benzema’s shot was parried by Asenjo to his feet for a straightforward finish.
But the goalscoring wasn’t done just yet, and only six minutes after falling behind Villarreal were right back in it—dos Santos having beaten Lopez on a rebound quite similar to that which allowed Ronaldo to score.
Key Player Grades
Gareth Bale: A-
He was barely noticeable until popping up with a goal in the 38th minute, but world football’s most expensive player looked considerably more comfortable in the second half before being substituted in the 62nd minute. He touched the ball 34 times, attempted two shots at goal and won three dribbles past his marker. Not bad at all for a debut. (Statistics courtesy WhoScored.com.)
Cristiano Ronaldo: A
He scored once, completed 85 per cent of his passes (which is exceptional for a winger) and attempted eight shots at goal. He might also have scored the winner with only minutes remaining but watched as his shot from in close sailed over the crossbar. Notably, his performance improved when Angel Di Maria was introduced for Bale in the 62nd minute, as the side’s balance seemed to improve.
Giovani Dos Santos: A
The Mexico forward was a menace throughout the evening, forcing Pepe and Sergio Ramos into silly mistakes and generally making the Madrid backline look slow and disorganized. His goal in the 70th minute earned Villarreal a much-deserved draw, and if there could be any fault found in his performance, it would surely be that he might have scored a hat-trick on this night.
Next up for in-form Villarreal are Celta Vigo next weekend, and on Sept. 26 they’ll be back at El Madrigal to welcome Espanyol. Real Madrid, meanwhile, are off to Galatasaray in the Champions League on Tuesday and will host Getafe in their next Primera Division match on Sept. 22.