SkySports bosses would have been licking their lips earlier this evening at the prospect of both Real Madrid and Barcelona facing off against two teams in the bottom four of La Liga, especially without BBC’s weekly Match of the Day stealing homesick viewers; though the night disappointed those in search of plenty of goals.
Just 4 came in total, all of which from the Santiago Bernabeu, meaning that one of the top two had to settle with a deadlocked 0-0. That team was Barcelona who fell 7 points behind leaders Real Madrid as Villarreal outfought their fatigued, injury stricken opponents and held on for a well-deserved point; perfect tonic for a vengeful Madrid following their (routine may be harsh) Clasico defeat in the cup on Wednesday.
However, Madrid were forced to exert some form of effort mind as bottom side Zaragoza took a shock lead after only 12 minutes; a quick free kick worked brilliantly as Lafita tapped home comfortably, unsettling the home team. Perhaps inevitably however, Madrid struck back on the half hour mark. Kaka’, linked recently with a transfer to Qatari backed PSG, slotted home his 4th La Liga goal of the season to level, but he and his teammates failed to go into half time with the lead thanks to a stubborn Zaragoza showing.
Many expected the floodgates to tear off once Ronaldo put the hosts 2-1 up not long after half time, few thought plucky Zaragoza would come away with the credit they deserved though and despite Ozil scoring a third, the much troubled bottom side remained resilient, refusing to buckle to the fierce expectations of each and every SkySports subscriber and concede a Pichichi winning total.
Nevertheless, Madrid had completed their job, not to the best of their ability but well enough to move on from the harrowing defeat in midweek.
Onto Barcelona now who faced Villarreal at El Madrigal, knowing full well that the 8 point lead Real boasted needed to be cut. In their way, Villarreal, under the guidance of former goalkeeper Jose Molina, faced a league battle themselves at the foot of the table. A defeat of 4 goals tonight would have seen El Submarino Amarillo drop below the dotted line and into jeopardy.
Strangely they failed to roll over; in fact the hosts dominated periods of the game, in particular the first period when Javier Mascherano and Victor Valdes came to the rescue to deny their spirited opposition. Lionel Messi failed to impress apart from a fancy lob which crept ever so slightly wide, while Xavi and Fabregas couldn’t stamp their authority on proceedings.
You fully expected Barca to dominate the second half once Guardiola brought them in at the break but a goal of any sort failed to materialise. Villarreal battled fiercely and matched Barcelona for work rate and strength despite tiring in the final 15 minutes, allowing Diego Lopez the chance to steal the plaudits with two stunning stops from Fabregas and Messi.
The first was spectacular; substitute Cristian Tello played a reverse pass from the left wing into Fabregas’ path on the edge of the area. The Spaniard caught it well enough but Lopez tipped it onto the bar, even after a defender had deflected the shot! Shortly after the ball had been scrambled clear, Messi broke through and shot straight at Lopez with the rebound falling to Fabregas, only for him to miss the target from a similar position.
The draw means that Barca lose ground on rivals Madrid but it also highlighted a worrying lack of depth in the squad. Iniesta, Villa, Keita, Afellay and Sanchez were all unavailable tonight and with the team progressing in the Champions League and Spanish Cup, squad problems may become a dangerous issue.
It won’t bother Real in the slightest however as they take a step closer to an elusive first title in 4 years. The midweek cup defeat doesn’t smart so much now back in the Spanish capital tonight.