It has been a real struggle for Real Madrid to surface the final XI. The Los Blancos have been heavily affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic and injuries. They had to go out and play against Villarreal at the Estadio Ceramica without their captain Sergio Ramos and goal-scorer Karim Benzema. Zinedine Zidane picked up what he had available.

Eden Hazard would take one attacking slot. There were two left that would ultimately go to Mariano Diaz and Lucas Vazquez. Martin Odegaard was available in the midfield and formed the trio with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. There was no defensive midfielder in front of the defence which included: Dani Carbajal and Ferland Mendy as full-backs while Naco Fernandez and Raphael Varane playing the centre-backs.

The trio of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, and Marco Asensio was not considered as starters keeping in mind the fatigue of the international break.

Within 107 seconds, Mariano Diaz, featuring in a Real Madrid shirt after 18 months, gave Madrid the lead.

Mariano’s previous start in May 2019 had seen him score twice in a victory over Villarreal, yet his goal – which angered Unai Emery and his players amid confusion over a potential offside – but the game moved on.

Mariano at least made the most of a rare opportunity, although his contentious opener came after the linesman briefly raised his flag in error, seemingly believing the offside Lucas Vazquez was set to collect Dani Carvajal’s pass.

The right-back instead himself seized on the loose ball and crossed for Mariano to head in, prompting unsuccessful appeals from furious home defenders.

The midfield of Zidane shaped in a position where Kroos and Modric formed pivots and Odegaard lied just behind the striker.

Hazard was wandering for nothing on the left but Vazquez provided enough width on the right.

The midfield was designed to press the home team and caught them on the counter, but the aggressive intent was largely available due to tiredness.

Villarreal held their line well thereafter to halt Madrid’s subsequent first-half attacks, but Dani Parejo could not capitalize at the other end as he nodded over after finding space where Ramos might typically be stationed.

Madrid controlled the pace of the game better in the first-half, but in the second, they became stagnant.

Emery noticed the fatigued players of Real Madrid with a non-functioning Hazard.

He made substitutions and started to feed the tiredness of Los Blancos.

Real Madrid left spaces during the transitions and Villarreal exploited those.

Moreno dragged a shot across the face of goal following a poor Toni Kroos pass, before Parejo blazed wide.

The midfield lost their momentum and sloppiness was evident.

The defence started to crack.

Thibaut Courtois – underworked despite the hosts’ openings – raced from his line and took down Chukwueze, allowing Moreno to pick out the bottom-left corner 14 minutes from time.

Zidane brought fresh legs, but there was no cutting edge.

The game ended 1-1.

Real Madrid had just six shots against Villarreal.

The only one on target was their goal, meaning that for the 89 minutes after Mariano scored Los Blancos couldn’t get hit the target with their measly four attempts.

What can you expect from a side plagued by injuries, COVID-19, and fatigue?