A risky pass into midfield by Chakla was nicked by Casemiro and picked up by Modric, 40 yards from goal. Villarreal were suddenly exposed, and Modric moved into the space before playing a simple angled pass to put Benzema through on goal. He drove a first-time shot through the legs of Asenjo from 10 yards. That’s his 20th goal of the season.
GOAL! Real Madrid 1-0 Villarreal (Benzema 29)
The big man gives Real the lead!
28 min If Real do make a Horlicks of this, their final match is at Leganes on Sunday.
26 min Real keep moving the ball left and right in pursuit of an opening. Nothing doing at the moment.
22 min Villarreal have been solid defensively in the first quarter. Despite all their possession, Real haven’t created much.
19 min Hazard scoots away from Chakla, who pulls him back and is booked.
GOAL! Barcelona 0-1 Osasuna (Arnaiz 16)
As Stephen Carr was saying… Barcelona are behind at home to Osasuna. If they don’t win tonight, Madrid will be champions regardless of what happens in this game.
18 min “Good evening Rob,” says Stephen Carr. “Real and Barca are both teams at the end of their respective cycles and need significant overhauls but the former seem better equipped to move forward – Barca are an absolute mess of a club at the moment.”
They surely are. Where do you even start with that rebuild?
17 min The resulting corner is headed over at the near post by Varane.
16 min Modric whistles a shot from 25 yards that is palmed behind by the diving Asenjo. It was a fairly comfortable save.
15 min Casemiro clips an angled pass over the defence to Benzema, who hooks a volley wide of the far post. It was a difficult chance from a very tight angle, and replays suggest it was a cross rather than a shot.
12 min Casemiro runs onto a loose ball, 30 yards from goal, and bullets it into orbit.
10 min It’s all Real Madrid so far. Villarreal have parked the submarine, with two banks of four shuffling from side to side. (We thought their formation would be 5-4-1 but it’s actually 4-4-2.)
8 min It’s Barcelona 0-0 Osasuna, though Barca have had 88 per cent of the possession so far.
7 min It’s been a relaxed start from Real. Benzema finds Modric in space on the right. He looks up and hammers a cross that is stabbed towards goal by Benzema and saved comfortably by Asenjo.
4 min Carvajal’s lob is claimed by the backpedalling Asenjo.
“Hi Rob,” says Mark Childs. “Can’t believe that in my head I just compared Zidane with Big Ron, but that was my first thought in response to your point about Zidane being underrated… Don’t you think some of the lack of respect for Zidane is because they’ve lacked ‘remorseless consistency’? I don’t watch them enough to know, but my sense is that Real have enough great players to win any game and a ‘great’ manager would have them win more games? Also, that when they win it is due to great individual performances of players rather than patterns of play from a great coach?”
I know what you mean, but what are Liverpool’s patterns of play? What were Manchester United’s in 1999? I’m not sure this Madrid squad is particularly good, either, which is why this season has been so impressive. I agree about Big Ron, mind.
What is going on Italy, I hear you ask.
Barcelona are also playing tonight, at home to Osasuna. If they fail to win, Real will be champions even if they lose 147-0 to Villarreal.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Modrić, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Hazard.
Substitutes: Areola, Militão, Nacho, Bale, Valverde, Lucas Vázquez, Jović, Asensio, Brahim, Isco, Mariano, Vinicius Júnior.
Villarreal (5-4-1): Asenjo; Pena, Mario, Chakla, Pau Torres, Quintillà; Chukwueze, Anguissa, Morlanes, Moi Gómez; Gerard Moreno.
Substitutes: Andres Fernandez, Albion, Cazorla, Iborra, Trigueros, Alberto Moreno, Bruno, Ontiveros, Andrei, Lozano, Alex, Fer Nino
Real Madrid are the only team in world football who could turn their nose up at winning a domestic title. They have been defined by the European Cup for so long that La Liga often feels like an afterthought. But since lockdown it has been their world entire: they have won nine games in a row, displaying the kind of remorseless consistency of a Bayern Munich or a Liverpool. A tenth win tonight, at home to Villarreal, would clinch a 34th La Liga title.
It would also be only their third in the last 12 seasons. They’ve won the Champions League more often in that time, a confusing statgasm that reflects the unique identity of the club. The Champions League will be harder to win this year, given their 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester City in the first leg of their last-16 match, but a lot has changed since then and it would silly to rule them out. Especially with Zinedine Zidane in charge.
One of these days, Zidane is going to get the credit for he deserves for a unique coaching CV. He has had three attemps at the Champions League and won them all, and is on the cusp of winning La Liga for the second time in three full seasons. If he had a more, a-hem, media-friendly personality we’d be talking about one of the all-time great coaches, yet he is still treated like a bit of a curiosity.
Ol’ Man Zizou: he don’t say nuthin’ but he must know somethin’, ’cause he just keeps winning trophies.
Kick off 8pm BST, 9pm CEST.
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