Real Madrid endured a frustrating start to the new year as they drew 2 – 2 at struggling Villarreal on Thursday and were left seven points behind La Liga leaders FC Barcelona.
The game was a rescheduled fixture, due to Real Madrid’ s participation in last month ’ s FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates ( UAE ) .
Midfielder Santi Cazorla gave the home side the lead in the fourth minute of the game , by bending a wonderful shot into the bottom corner .
But the European champions struck back three minutes later with a headed goal from Karim Benzema after a sweeping attacking move .
Raphael Varane gave the visitors the lead in the 20 th with a header from a free -kick .
But it was former Arsenal midfielder Cazorla , who has overcome a terrible run of injuries to resurrect his career in Spain , who had the final say .
The diminutive 34 -year -old Spaniard ghosted into the box undetected to nod home at the back post in the 82 nd minute.
It gave his side a deserved point in new coach Luis Garcia Plaza ’ s first home game in charge .
Real Madrid have not won their opening away game of a new year since 2014 , and Cazorla ’ s late strike prevented them from going level on points with Sevilla .
It kept them in fourth place , seven behind leaders FC Barcelona after 17 games .
Apart from conceding the early goal , Real Madrid produced an impressive display in the first half.
But they lost their grip on the game after Gareth Bale was substituted soon after the interval with a knock .
Ballon d’ Or winner Luka Modric, who helped set up the equaliser, followed Bale off the pitch midway through the second half.
And Villarreal , spurred on by their supporters , showed more intensity and wrestled back control of the play .
Cazorla ’ s leveller followed a spell of pressure from the home side .
But Real Madrid could still have snatched a winner when substitute Isco burst into the area but was denied by Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo .
“It could be said the result was fair . We chased the victory and had it in our hands .
“We wanted to kill the game off and they put us under a lot of pressure as they were at home and they badly needed the points , ” Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said.
“When Gareth came off we lost a bit of sharpness in attack , we still had the chance to score a couple but we needed to attack with more clarity . ”
Villarreal , who have reached the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League in spite of a dire domestic season , clawed their way out of the relegation zone .
They are now 17 th in the standings , level on points with 18 th – placed Athletic Bilbao .
“This result will give us strength , ” said Villarreal coach Garcia , who has taken two points from two games since succeeding the sacked Javi Calleja.
“I imagine that every game from now on will be a battle , a war to survive but hopefully we ’ ll come through it , and this point gives us a big emotional boost . ”
( Reuters / NAN )
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