Gareth Bale scored twice to save Real Madrid from a damaging defeat away at Villarreal on Sunday before capping a dramatic 2-2 draw by being sent off in injury-time.
Zinedine Zidane said in July it would be “best for everyone” if Bale left this summer but it was the Welshman’s double that earned Madrid a point from a thrilling contest at la Ceramica.
Villarreal took the lead through Gerard Moreno in the 12th minute and then Moi Gomez 16 minutes from the end but each time Bale pegged them back, first on the stroke of half-time and then four minutes from the end.
Two yellow cards in as many minutes then saw Bale dramatically sent off in the 94th minute but by then his match-saving contribution was complete.
“I am pleased with his goals, of course, and now we have to think about a rest,” Zidane said. “Although he won’t rest as he’s going away with his national team.”
It was six years to the day that Real Madrid paid 100 million euros (now $110m) to sign Bale, who now has 104 goals for the club, as many as the Brazilian Ronaldo.
But his heroics could not save Madrid from another slip, which means they head into the international break five points behind early front-runners Atletico Madrid, who had earlier beaten Eibar 3-2.
“We have to improve defensively,” Zidane said. “We know we can create chances. The positive is the reaction we showed because it is important not to lose.”
Asked what was lacking, Casemiro said: “We lacked everything.”
After drawing at home to Real Valladolid though, this was not the result Zidane would have wanted, particularly given he threw two new signings into his starting line-up.
Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy both started, with Bale on the left of midfield in a 4-4-2, a sign of Zidane’s renewed faith in the 30-year-old’s defensive capabilities.
Zidane has now won only six of the 14 matches since he returned as coach in March and it remains to be seen if the club make any late additions on the final day of the transfer window on Monday.