In a second half that featured five goals, Real Madrid fought back from two-nil down to post another important win through an 83rd minute winner by Morata.
Alvaro Morata headed in the winner in the 83rd minute to provide a dramatic finish for Real Madrid, who fought back from 2-0 down in the second half to take back the lead in the title race. Manu Trigueros and Cedric Bakambu appeared to have put the match beyond the visitors after scoring minutes from each other early in the second half, especially after Villarreal had so effectively shut-out Real for much of the opening 45 minutes.
But a late surge from Zidane’s men – helped along by a controversial penalty decision – erased their lead soon enough. Bale marked his first start since his return from injury with a fine finish off Carvajal’s cross. A little more than ten minutes on the referee pointed to the spot following chaos in the Villarreal penalty box. Ruiz’s save off Kroos’ shot inadvertently ran up Bruno Soriano’s arm, who appeared quite clueless of what was happening.
Villarreal 2-3 Real Madrid FT:
Chances created: 8-19
Pass accuracy: 85%-87%
What a comeback! pic.twitter.com/kl8TsFehVz
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 26, 2017
It was a harsh call, in hindsight, but Ronaldo buried the resulting penalty to pull Real level. And Morata wrapped things up for the visitors, powering in a pinpoint cross from Marcelo to clinch the winner. Luck played a good part on the night for Zidane and his men. A loss or even a draw would have left them trailing Barcelona, and either level or just a point ahead of Sevilla in second. But as it stands, Real Madrid are back on top in the Liga standings. And they still have a game in hand. After the shock loss to Valencia n midweek, this was exactly the sort of exhilarating result they needed.
Real turn it around amidst penalty controversy
The penalty may have overshadowed much of an action-packed second half, but it was Villarreal’s first half display that really warranted a point for the hosts. The Yellow Submarine has maintained a pretty tight defence through the season, letting in just 15 goals thus far. And they demonstrated the same solidity on Sunday. Apart from Benzema’s saved header, Real Madrid couldn’t come close to scoring in the first half. Instead it was the hosts who almost took the lead, first with Gaspar’s effort early in the 12th and then almost through dos Santos and Castillejo.
A serious knee injury to keeper Asenjo towards the end of the first half didn’t slow down Villarreal. They continued to attack in the second half as well, and finally broke through in the 50th. Castillejo brought the ball down in the area to set-up Trigueros, whose half-volley blew past Navas into goal. Six minutes later, Bakambu doubled their lead as he latched onto Bruno’s pass and managed a fine finish from 20-yards out after out-muscling Ramos.
57 – Cristiano Ronaldo is now the player with most penalties scored in La Liga history, surpassing Hugo Sanchez (56). Punisher. pic.twitter.com/aWjmMezadO
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 26, 2017
But Real Madrid remained unfazed as they started digging in earnest in search for a goal. Ronaldo struck the post with a vicious left-footed volley. The returning Bale pegged one back when he headed down Carvajal’s cross in the 64th. And then followed the fracas of the penalty which saw Villarreal substitute Roberto Soldado yellow carded and manager Escriba sent to the stands for dissent. Their focus unravelling in the face of the greatly emboldened Madrid, Villarreal went on to concede another less than ten minutes on. A brilliant cross by Marcelo from the left found Morata, and the 24-year old headed home for the win.
Post-match reactions – Villarreal manager Fran Escriba
The 51-year old was naturally disappointed after his team lost from a winning position. On what he considered to be the turning point in the match:
“We lost concentration with the penalty play. The match was over for us in that moment. With the penalty, it was hard to hold on and it got us down”.
On his players’ overall performance:
“In summary, the team played well despite the negative result. It seemed like they were creating danger. Nobody thought getting points would be easy”.
OFFICIAL: Sergio Asenjo suffered the fourth ACL injury of his career during tonight's game against Real Madrid. pic.twitter.com/oGCPguVZRB
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 26, 2017
On the controversial penalty call by referee Jesus Gil Manzano:
“If you know me you know that I have respect for the referees. The referees themselves give us talks and say that if it’s a rebound it’s not a penalty. Obviously I protested, but always with respect”.
On goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo’s injury:
“Unfortunately, it really is bad news. Sergio has torn his ACL in his left knee”.
Post-match reactions – Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane
The Frenchman credited his substitutes for sparking the late comeback in the second half:
“At 2-0 down you must change something. We changed and it went well for us. The players who came on did very well. We made an attacking change, played more in their half, and it came out well.
“We got three points which are very important for us, against a very good opponent, we are very happy. With what had happened today, it was important to get the three points and remain leader.”
On the issue of giving more game time to the likes of Isco and Morata:
“Of course [they] deserve more. They did very well, came on and changed the game. We are going to need all our players for sure.”
Gareth Bale's game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
86% pass acc.
2 chances created
Real Madrid's key man. pic.twitter.com/xAt7x4b2Fu
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 26, 2017
On the penalty call for their second goal that caused such uproar:
“The [Madrid] players said it was a penalty. I could not see it. And anyway I never get into talking about referees. He blew for it and that’s it.”
On Gareth Bale having possibly re-injured the same ankle that sidelined him for so long:
“Gareth just got a bang, I believe it is nothing more serious than that,”