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Karim Benzema sparks Real Madrid comeback win vs. Villarreal in 8/10 performance, but Los Blancos fall short of La Liga title

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Real Madrid missed out on the La Liga title on Saturday despite a 2-1 comeback win over Villarreal, as leaders Atletico Madrid also secured a 2-1 victory at Real Valladolid on a tense final day of the season.

Yeremi Pino, 18, put Villarreal a goal up with 20 minutes played, slotting past Thibaut Courtois. Madrid's penalty appeals were waved away by referee Jose Munuera when Dani Parejo appeared to handle the ball, and Luka Modric shot into the side netting, while Karim Benzema fired over the bar and Casemiro had a header saved as the home side pushed for an equaliser.

Benzema had a header ruled out for offside after half-time and then the France striker shot wide when substitute Rodrygo had stolen the ball from Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli. Modric put a long-range effort off target before Benzema gave Madrid hope with a late equaliser, and Modric grabbed an added-time winner.

Positives

The fact that this Real Madrid squad -- ravaged by injuries (60 at the latest count) and 10 COVID-enforced absences throughout the season -- took the La Liga title race all the way to the last day of the season was an achievement in itself. Nobody expected such a finale when Atletico were 10 points clear at the top of the table in January.

Coach Zinedine Zidane and the players deserve credit for what they've done since then, going 18 league games unbeaten to push Atletico all the way. This comeback win was another demonstration of Madrid's never-say-die spirit and winning mentality, even if ultimately it counted for nothing.

Negatives

Atletico's win at Valladolid meant Real end the campaign trophyless. A second-placed league finish and a Champions League semifinal would make for a successful season at many clubs, but not at Real Madrid, where expectations are sky high, regardless of circumstance. Those outcomes, coupled with earlier failures in the Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercopa, mean that this season will be classed as a disappointment, if not an outright failure.

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Real Madrid's home record -- with defeats to Cadiz, Alaves and Levante at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium this season -- is the reason they aren't champions, given that their away form has been superior to Atletico Madrid's. Here, they narrowly avoided another home loss thanks to Benzema and Modric.

Manager rating out of 10

7 -- Zidane ends the season empty-handed and with his future uncertain -- having dropped hint after hint that he is planning a departure this summer -- but his reputation as a coach has been enhanced, if anything, by how his team has responded since January. Saturday's team selection saw few surprises, with Raphael Varane back from injury coming in for Nacho, and a poor start was salvaged by a strong second-half showing. Zidane's last game as a Real Madrid player came against Villarreal in May 2006 and now the wait begins to see if the same applies to his second managerial spell.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 6 -- Beaten by Yeremi for Villarreal's goal. Otherwise didn't have much to do. Ever present in La Liga and a strong contender for Madrid's player of the season.

DF Alvaro Odriozola, 6 -- Has improved with increased game time in recent weeks, as you would expect. Still more effective in attack than defence, though.

DF Raphael Varane, 7 -- His first start in three weeks, back from a hamstring injury, and this was an awkward evening with Carlos Bacca and Gerard Moreno to deal with.

DF Eder Militao, 6 -- Did well early on to snuff out a Bacca chance, but at times looked uncomfortable. Nonetheless, one of the success stories of the second half of the season.

DF Miguel Gutierrez, 6 -- Has rightly won his place ahead of Marcelo. Looks so composed on the ball even when under pressure.

MF Casemiro, 7 -- The most influential player on this team. Never stopped working, fighting and organising the side, without success.

MF Luka Modric, 8 -- Has started 32 league games this season aged 35 and shows no signs of decline. Could have done better with his first-half chance, shooting wide, and then went close before scoring the winner.

MF Federico Valverde, 7 -- Played with Toni Kroos missing, but in a more advanced role, often pushing up to support Benzema. Didn't stop running.

FW Vinicius Junior, 5 -- Disappointing. His has been a season of moments: some when he's looked close to realising his huge potential, and others (arguably more frequent, as here) where his shortcomings remain glaringly obvious.

FW Marco Asensio, 5 -- Frustrating. So much talent, and had a really good spell from March to April, but has faded since then. Taken off early.

FW Karim Benzema, 8 -- Took his offside header and his eventual goal really well. Has made a gigantic contribution with 23 league goals -- 16 more than next-highest scorer Casemiro.

Substitutes

FW Rodrygo, 7 -- Almost forced an equaliser when he closed down keeper Rulli. Offers far more goal threat than Vinicius.

MF Isco, 7 -- Played more than half an hour. One burst into the box, before running into trouble, gave a glimpse of the player he used to be.

DF Nacho, 6 -- Didn't have much to do, with the team in attack mode for the last half hour.

DF Marcelo, 6 -- Put in a really dangerous cross for Mariano.

FW Mariano, 6 -- Couldn't beat Rulli with his header.