Another bleak and blank day for Los Blancos at the Bernabéu plunged even more pressure on the suddenly vulnerable Zinedine Zidane.
Catching Barcelona at the top of La Liga was already a pipe dream, but despite a markedly improved performance, Real couldn’t find a way past the inspired Sergio Asenjo before Pablo Fornals produced a sucker punch for Villarreal two minutes from time.
Asenjo produced stunning saves from Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo in the first-half, whilst Ronaldo also hit the crossbar and post.
However, it was just the latest in a series of off days for the world player of the year in La Liga as Real remain 16 points of Barca and rooted in fourth.
Madrid have now failed to win half of their 18 league games this season and the crowd weren’t slot in showing Zidane what they thought of his decision making when Isco and Gareth Bale were subbed even before the winner.
Freezing January temperatures, rain and under-performing team meant it was little surprise there were nearly 20,000 empty seats at the Bernabéu.
However, those that did show up weren’t slow to show their discontent with the European champions.
Normally a fans’ favourite, Marcelo was first in the firing line following his poor form of late, but the Brazilian wasn’t alone.
A chorus of whistles met Zidane’s decision to sacrifice Bale and Isco in search of a winner as Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos remain his untouchables.
2. Ronaldo different in the league
It is a curious case of Ronaldo’s season that he still has impressive overall figures of 16 goals in 24 appearances – even if they aren’t the stratospheric numbers he is used to.
However, just four of those have come in La Liga, two of them from penalties.
Once again Ronaldo suffered from a mixture of bad luck and bad finishing as he hit the woodwork twice and fluffed his best opening wide.
3. Stubborn Zidane
Under consistent fire for the first time in his managerial career, Zidane stayed true to his word by insisting he won’t change his ways.
Once again a number of local favourites like Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were dropped despite shining in the Copa del Rey in midweek as the established midfield four of Casemiro, Kroos, Modric and Isco returned.
At the end of the day it is a results game so the Frenchman’s decision will be questioned.
He did get a reaction on a performance level with Madrid far more intense and creative than the side that slumbered for a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo last weekend.
However, his inability to influence the game with his substitutes was again exposed as he made just two changes and left Real open to be counter-attack.
4. Not even second best
Madrid’s season will be determined by how they defend their Champions League crown, but their realistic ambitions in La Liga have been reduced to qualifying for next season’s competition.
Real will still make it, thanks in no small part to Sevilla’s slump, but it is not just Barcelona but Atletico Madrid and Valencia who are disappearing over the horizon.
Should they win later on Saturday, Real will be nine and seven points off second and third respectively.
5. Asenjo never gives up
For most players, one cruciate ligament injury can end or irreparably damage a career.
Once rated more highly than David de Gea in his early days at Atletico, Asenjo is still performing at a phenomenal level given he has recently returned from a fourth cruciate injury.
It was against Madrid back in February last year that Asenjo’s knees betrayed him just as he had broken back into the Spanish national team.
Yet here he flew left and right to leave Ronaldo, Marcelo Modric and Kroos frustrated. – Mirror