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Real Madrid reclaim top spot with come-from-behind defeat of Villarreal

Real Madrid came from two goals down to defeat Villarreal on Sunday. Getty Images

Real Madrid came from two goals down to defeat Villarreal on Sunday. Getty Images

Real Madrid came from two goals down to swiftly reclaim top spot in LaLiga with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Villarreal.

Having been displaced at the summit a few hours earlier when Barcelona won at Atletico Madrid, Real were facing up to the prospect of two defeats in five days when the home side went 2-0 up before the hour through Manu Trigueros and Cedric Bakambu.

But Gareth Bale, starting for the first time since November, reduced the deficit, Cristiano Ronaldo converted a controversially awarded penalty to level and substitute Alvaro Morata nodded in a 83rd-minute winner as Real’s relentless pressure eventually told.

It maintained the one-point cushion they held over Barca heading into the day, with Zinedine Zidane’s men also holding a game in hand on their great rivals.

Having scored in the previous 43 games, Zidane also had the luxury of utilising Karim Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo together in attack for the first time in three months, but they were facing LaLiga’s stingiest defence.

And they were showcasing their attacking talent too as Mario brought a good save out of Keylor Navas after good work from Trigueros while Adrian Lopez’s deflected effort went just wide.

Real were able to produce just a solitary effort across the opening 45 minutes when Benzema diverted Marcelo’s deep cross towards goal only for Sergio Asenjo to claw it away with both hands.

The Frenchman had been unable to get a clean contact on his effort and that allowed Asenjo time to make the stop, though he hurt himself in doing so and had to be withdrawn for Andres Fernandez.

The visitors were unable to test the back-up stopper and were posing a threat at the other end as Jonathan dos Santos’ deflected effort went wide and Samu Castillejo almost converted a deep cross from Jaume Costa.

They may not have found a way through in the opening 45, but within 11 minutes of the second period Villarreal were two goals up.

The first came courtesy of Trigueros, who managed to keep his volley down and direct it into the far corner after Castillejo headed Adrian’s cross back to him.

That lead was doubled six minutes later when Bruno Soriano’s through ball was reached by Bakambu, and the powerful forward held off Sergio Ramos before finishing beyond Navas.

At 2-0 down, and with Isco brought on, Real finally stirred, though Ronaldo’s vicious volley crashed against the woodwork, suggesting it might not be their day.

Bale did his best to dispel that theory by heading one back with 26 minutes to go from a perfect back-post cross from right-back Dani Carvajal.

The key moment then occurred in the 74th minute when Real won a contentious penalty for a debatable handball against Bruno.

From Toni Kroos’ shot, Victor Ruiz stuck out a leg to block the effort and the ball struck Bruno, standing a couple of yards away, on the arm for what the referee deemed a penalty.

 The Villarreal bench was furious and manager Fran Escriba appeared to be sent off for his protestations, as Ronaldo put aside the lengthy delay to fire beyond Fernandez with an effort into the left corner that was too powerful to keep out.

And the travelling side continued to push for a winner which they got when Marcelo’s left-wing delivery was met by Morata’s head, with Fernandez unable to prevent the chance squirming beyond him.

Dos Santos fired a good chance to level wide, while Morata missed a chance to increase the margin of victory, but Real were able to return to the summit they vacated for just a few hours having staged a remarkable comeback.

The only concern for Zidane would have been the sight of Bale appearing to injure his left ankle again when miscuing a shot, though the fact he walked off when being replaced by Lucas Vazquez suggests he may have avoided serious damage.

Credit:@PA Sport

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