Madrid held at Villarreal before PSG; Bale makes rare start
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The only positive that Real Madrid could take away from its scoreless draw with Villarreal on Saturday was Gareth Bale, whose good form belied his return to the pitch after more than five months on the sidelines.
The stalemate left Madrid four points clear of second-placed Sevilla as the Spanish league leader continues to struggle without injured striker Karim Benzema, and with their Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain just three days away.
While Madrid stumbled, an 89th-minute goal by Mario Hermoso snatched 10-man Atlético Madrid a 4-3 victory over Getafe in a wild capital derby that featured a red card, three penalties, and six first-half goals.
Bale had not played for Real Madrid since three appearances in August. Then injuries and a COVID-19 infection ensured he fell out of Carlo Ancelotti’s rotation in favor of younger players such as Vinícius Júnior and Marco Asensio. During that period, however, he did play three World Cup qualifiers for Wales, twice in September and once in November.
With Benzema recovering from a left hamstring pull, Ancelotti gave Bale the nod to play as his striker. Bale needed almost the entire first half to finally get involved against Villarreal, but once he did, he showed the same ability he always had to produce scoring chances.
“(Bale) had his opportunity and he made the most of it. He could have scored, he gave us a threat up front, he did all we asked of him,” Ancelotti said about the former star who returned to Madrid last summer after his loan to Tottenham.
Only the goalkeeping of Gerónimo Rulli stopped Bale on three occasions, including one shot he pushed onto his bar in the 56th minute. Late substitute Luka Jovic almost grabbed a stoppage-time winner on the break when he sent his chipped shot onto the bar.
Villarreal, which remained in sixth place, was also without its top striker as Gerard Moreno nursed a right leg injury.
Villarreal, however, got the better of Madrid in an intense, and sometimes testy, first half.
Besides his surprise choice of Bale, Ancelotti also started the sparingly used Marcelo on the left side of his defense. Marcelo, whose contract is up in June, was slow to keep up with winger Samuel Chukwueze, while new arrival Giovani Lo Celso cued Villarreal’s passing attack.
“Each side had their half. We did enough to have led the first half, but then they had their chances in the second and we struggled. I think splitting the points is a fair result,” Villarreal defender Raul Albiol said.
Madrid faces a trip to PSG on Tuesday with only one win in its last four games and doubts if Benzema will be ready.
SHOOTOUT AT THE WANDA
Even though Luis Suárez had an early penalty saved by Getafe’s David Soria, Atlético looked ready to roll after Ángel Correa and Matheus Cunha gave it a 2-0 lead at their Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
But Getafe roared ahead in less than 15 minutes, helped by two careless touches by the host and the same defensive errors that have undermined its title defense.
Borja Mayoral sparked the fightback by knocking in an errant shot by a teammate. Enes Unal then put his side ahead after converting penalties in the 37th and 42nd following handballs by Cunha and Thomas Lemar.
Lemar helped make up for his mistake with a cross that Correa headed home for his second goal to make it 3-3 just before halftime.
Atlético’s Felipe Monteiro was sent off in the 58th for sticking his studs into the upper arm of Mauro Arambarri during a high speed clash. That came shortly after Unal left the pitch following a knock with Felipe.
Atletico was on the verge of an embarrassing setback on the heels of its 4-2 loss to Barcelona in the last round when Hermoso scrambled in his own miss after fellow substitute João Félix headed down a free kick in the six-yard box.
The hard-earned victory lifted Atlético back into fourth place ahead of Barcelona before its derby at Espanyol on Sunday.
Cádiz goalie Jeremías Ledesma saved a late penalty by Celta Vigo’s Santi Mina to ensure a 0-0 draw, while Osasuna won 3-0 at Rayo Vallecano.
This story had been corrected to show that Bale has played for Wales since September.
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