Bale & Ronaldo show underway, but money can't buy love for mediocre Madrid

Carlo Ancelotti’s men fell behind and then went ahead but were fortunate to get out of El Madrigal with a point as Diego Lopez denied his former side victory with an epic display

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

It was the most expensive side ever assembled. With new signing Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo both in the team, Real Madrid’s starting XI at Villarreal on Saturday cost somewhere shy of €400 million. But for long periods, it was the team in yellow who looked like the real superstars – not the ones in white.

Bale showed some of his quality – including some impressive running – and marked his debut with a vital goal before he was replaced by Angel di Maria after 61 minutes, while Ronaldo got lucky with a shot which ricocheted off a defender, then his shin and hit the back of the net – via goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo – to make it 2-1. But it was Villarreal who played the finest football, with crisp pressing and passing, dynamic link-up play and movement, true to the style which befits the club’s philosophy. And had it not been for their former hero Diego Lopez, the Yellow Submarine would have sunk Madrid without trace on Saturday.

It wasn’t only Real Madrid – Barcelona showed signs of weakness too on Saturday. Despite their attacking prowess, the Catalans complicated a game that had seemed won for the second successive round and needed an Alexis Sanchez winner deep into added time to preserve their perfect record in La Liga.

Having raced into a three-goal lead at Valencia in their last Liga match and ended up hanging on for a 3-2 success, Barca went two up in this one but saw their advantage disappear as Sevilla hit twice late on.

The Andalusians complained about the officials after Juan Cala saw what looked like a perfectly good goal disallowed – although replays showed he had fouled Dani Alves – while Barca’s winner came just seconds after three minutes of added time had elapsed, with Lionel Messi perhaps lucky to have escaped a foul on Alberto Moreno in the build-up.

Sevilla had also been fortunate to see Stephane Mbia stay on following a cynical push on Neymar which should have brought a second yellow card before half-time.

Nevertheless, Barca remain vulnerable at the back and are still missing a top-class centre-back in the continued absence of Carles Puyol, as they were opened up easily for the first goal and left Coke all alone to volley Sevilla’s second. At the moment, though, their offensive might is proving enough. Just.

As it was, the match finished 2-2 – and that scoreline in no way flattered the hosts. Quite the contrary, in fact. “I am very happy and proud,” Villarreal boss Marcelino Garcia Toral told the media afterwards. “For long periods of the game we dominated and, for me, we deserved to win the match.”

Bale still looks some way short of full fitness, while Ronaldo has been struggling with tendon problems which caused him to consider missing this match. Asier Illarramendi still seems to be feeling the effects of his injury, too – in midfield, the Basque was overrun alongside Luka Modric and Isco.

“It was the first time Bale and Ronaldo had played together – they will switch flanks in future because both of them move very well on the pitch,” Ancelotti argued. “I think they did well,” he added (in reference to debutants Bale and Illarramendi). “But they struggled somehwat to start with.”

So did Madrid. Indeed, Bale’s leveller took the steam out of Villarreal shortly before half-time, when a second strike from the locals looked like killing the game off altogether. But even though Madrid made it 2-1 through Ronaldo in the second period, the home side deservedly hit back through Giovani dos Santos – once a team-mate of Bale at Tottenham.

And Diego Lopez almost saved that too. The Galician goalkeeper perhaps had a point to prove on his old stomping ground after Ancelotti revealed on Friday that Iker Casillas will start in the Champions League clash against Galatasaray on Tuesday. Returning to the club where he made his name, the 31-year-old was sensational, making a series of stunning stops to deny his former team and keeping Madrid in it. More than Bale or Ronaldo, the Galactico on Saturday was Diego Lopez. “He played very well,” was Ancelotti’s understated assessment.

Madrid, meanwhile, did not. They can have no complaints about the result, but Ancelotti will be concerned at just how easily his midfield men were overrun. On this evidence, either Xabi Alonso (still recovering from injury) or Sami Khedira (who came on as a substitute) are badly needed in the starting XI, especially in such high-tempo games away from home, while the defence also appeared ragged at times in the contuned absence of Raphael Varane.

“Villarreal played very well – at a different rhythm,” Ancelotti said after the match. Now his Madrid side need to find their own rhythm. Because expensive signings alone are not enough.

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