Real Madrid failed to capitalise on Atletico Madrid’s shock defeat by bottom club Alaves on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw by a determined Villarreal in La Liga.
Dropped points for Spain’s leading pair allowed Sevilla to make up some ground at the top, with Julen Lopetegui’s side beating Espanyol 2-0 to jump above Atletico and into second.
Atletico had suffered their first loss in the season at Alaves. They had lost their five previous games and failed to score in any four of them.
Real Madrid could have won Villarreal by five points, but they settled for a lead of three points after a poor performance that contrasted with their 6-1 victory over Mallorca in midweek.
Marco Asensio scored three and Karim Benzema two in that game but both were quiet at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Carlo Ancelotti got his wish for tighter defending, but at the expense of his team’s fluidity in attack.
“It’s clear it wasn’t our best match of the season,” Ancelotti said.
Villarreal were the stronger side in the first half, with their two speedy wingers Danjuma and Yeremy Pino leading the charge.
Danjuma surged past Fede Valverde but his shot was tipped wide by Thibaut Courtois before Pino then created a chance for Paco Alcacer before Francis Coquelin’s follow-up was blocked.
Madrid’s performance improved after half-time. Benzema, Eder Militao and Villarreal both had headers, while Villarreal looked more dangerous, with Danjuma forcing Courtois to save another break before Pau Torres was just inches from tap in at the back post.
Madrid brought on Eden Hazard and Madrid made a comeback in the final ten minutes. Hazard crossed for Isco but his header wasn’t successful. Vinicius cut inside, and seemed to have the opening. But he blazed past.
Atletico Madrid’s attacking problems appear more entrenched as their rocky start to the season continued with a shock 1-0 defeat by Alaves.
Victor Laguardia’s header in the fourth minute was enough for an unexpected victory for Alaves, who sat 20th at kick-off.
Diego Simeone’s side have managed only two wins from their last six games in all competitions and this was the third time in four matches that they have failed to score.
“Obviously we lacked ideas,” Simeone said. “I don’t think it’s a system problem. It’s about aggression, in defence, and other situations.”
Atletico faces Barcelona next weekend after they travel to AC Milan for the Champions League on Tuesday. The game is more important because of a goalless draw at Porto, which increased the pressure in a group including Liverpool.
Simeone once again started with Antoine Griezmann along with Luis Suarez in front, but the pair could only manage one shot from Suarez. Griezmann was outshoned by Angel Correa in the second period.
The pressure on Griezmann’s place in the starting line-up is increasing. Joao Felix was watching from the stands while he served a suspension. Correa is the most in-form partner to Suarez.
Alaves had not scored for almost 400 minutes. But, Alaves scored the fourth as Laguardia ran on Stefan Savic from the corner and headed in at their back post.
An uneventful match livened up in the second half as Laguardia was called into defensive action, clearing Rodrigo De Paul’s free-kick off the line after the ball had bypassed everyone in the box.
Alaves should have won the match, but Mamadou Loum was able to score spectacular goals.
Correa had been brought on by Atletico to help Simeone spark his team. Simeone attempted to ignite his team with a near-post drive, but was denied. Alaves won the match.
After Thomas Delaney was sent to the stands for dissent, Sevilla beat Espanyol and had to play for 25 minutes with only 10 men.
Sevilla had been in control in the 13th minute, but Youssefen-Nesyri put Sevilla ahead in the 87th. Rafa Mir secured the win by tucking in at the far post.