Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid: Champions denied despite rare Mariano strike

Mariano Diaz stepped into Karim Benzema's shoes, but the absence of Sergio Ramos in defence proved costly for Real Madrid at Villarreal.
Real Madrid's LaLiga title defence suffered another early setback as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Villarreal despite leading for 74 minutes on Saturday.

The champions were without captain Sergio Ramos and star striker Karim Benzema due to injury but were in front after just 107 seconds through Mariano Diaz, back in the line-up for the first time in 18 months.

Mariano's previous start in May 2019 had seen him score twice in a victory over Villarreal, yet his goal - which angered Unai Emery and his players amid confusion over a potential offside - proved only enough for a point this time.

Thibaut Courtois felled Samuel Chukwueze and, after a number of close calls for a defence evidently missing Ramos, Gerard Moreno tucked away the resulting penalty to equalise, keeping Madrid fourth following their humbling at Valencia prior to the international break.

Mariano Diaz stepped into Karim Benzema's shoes, but the absence of Sergio Ramos in defence proved costly for Real Madrid at Villarreal.

Real Madrid's LaLiga title defence suffered another early setback as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Villarreal despite leading for 74 minutes on Saturday.

The champions were without captain Sergio Ramos and star striker Karim Benzema due to injury but were in front after just 107 seconds through Mariano Diaz, back in the line-up for the first time in 18 months.

Mariano's previous start in May 2019 had seen him score twice in a victory over Villarreal, yet his goal - which angered Unai Emery and his players amid confusion over a potential offside - proved only enough for a point this time.

Madrid pressure persists

"This is Real Madrid," Zinedine Zidane said on Friday. "We know the situation, we know all about it; every time we play we can't fail." The coach did not shy away from a question about the pressure mounting in the capital due to a testing start to the season.

A breakthrough Champions League win at home to Inter was supposed to get Madrid back on track on November 3, but they subsequently went down 4-1 at Valencia. Now, Moreno's equaliser here ensured there is again no respite ahead of a vital return fixture against the Nerazzurri at San Siro.

Madrid break emergency glass

Mariano does not see much action at Madrid, where Benzema is the undoubted first choice. But with the number nine ruled out on the eve of Saturday's game and Luka Jovic missing due to COVID-19, Zidane recalled his fringe man and was immediately rewarded.

The striker scored in a Clasico win against Barcelona last season, yet that had been his only goal from eight shots in a mere 56 league minutes since his two-goal salvo on his previous start. Mariano played 85 minutes on Saturday and netted with his only shot while creating two chances for others, proving an effective emergency option.

He was caught offside four times but not when it mattered most.





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