It was an impressive comeback. Real Madrid conceded twice early on in the second half at Villarreal and looked set to throw away three more points in the title race after Wednesday’s loss away to Valencia. This time, however, they turned it around – albeit with a helping hand from the officials.
Madrid storm back for vital victory
Games turn on moments and after Gareth Bale had pulled a goal back for Los Blancos with a header, the referee awarded a controversial penalty to the visitors. Bruno Soriano was penalised for handling the ball in the area, but the action was not deliberate and there was nothing he could do after the ball bounced up and hit him on the hand.
Villarreal coach Fran Escriba was sent off amid furious protests from the home side, but Cristiano Ronaldo kept his cool to level the scores and Alvaro Morata later headed home the winner to give Madrid a triumph that sends them back to the top of La Liga.
Without that decision, it may have been very different. On the flip side, however, images later showed there may have been a handball in the build-up to the first goal and Cedric Bakambu had also looked marginally offside as he ran onto Bruno’s ball to make it 2-0 to the Yellow Submarine.
That was a marginal call, but the penalty decision was much more controversial and Bruno said afterwards: “You can see clearly on TV that there is nothing I can do. The ball rebounded and hit me on the arm. It’s clearly not a penalty.”
Incidentally, it was Bruno who got away with what looked like a blatant handball in the area as Villarreal held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in January. Two handball decisions that could end up deciding the outcome of the title in May.
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Earlier on in the day, Barca beat Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon with a late Lionel Messi goal to move provisionally top of the table, and if Madrid had been defeated in the Comunidad Valenciana for the second time in the space of four days, their advantage would have been all but wiped out.
Had they lost at the Estadio de la Ceramica, Zidane’s side would have found themselves two points adrift in La Liga – albeit with a game in hand (away to Celta Vigo) still to be played.
So winning was absolutely essential for the league leaders – also for their confidence – and Isco’s impressive intervention from the bench helped bring about the comeback.
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So too did Morata. The Spain striker scored the winner with a header that Sergio Asenjo (off injured earlier in the game) may well have saved and showed his worth once again after Karim Benzema failed to make much of an impact. The former Juventus forward has now scored more goals from the bench (six) than any other Liga player this season.
Those two, both linked with summer exits, and Bale (making his first start since November) made this turnaround possible, the Welsh winger scoring his second goal in just three games since returning from injury earlier this month.
But while those three were important in an impressive revival for Real, there was also a helping hand from the officials this time around and without it, who knows if this comeback would have happened…