MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18: Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho reacts during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Malaga CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
The impossible suddenly seems very possible. In just three days, Real Madrid have dropped four points and the once-insurmountable La Liga lead of ten points over FC Barcelona has been cut to just six. Villarreal followed Málaga's winning method from last week's fixture by netting a late equalizer courtesy of a well-placed free kick, in this case taken by the Yellow Submarine's beleaguered captain Marcos Senna.
True to form, the men in white didn't take kindly to surrendering a goal, and Sergio Ramos (two yellows), Jose Mourinho, and Mesut Ozil (straight red card) were all sent off in the waning minutes of the match. Not only can Culés hopeful for a La Liga comeback point to the dwindling points gap at the top, but the volatile nature of Real Madrid's squad and management was once again on full display.
Villarreal very much deserved a point in this match, despite being well handled for long stretches. The opening minutes saw repeated shots on Casillas' goal, with Marco Ruben and Nilmar looking very dangerous up top, and numerous corner kicks for the home side. Real Madrid began to impose their will in the second half, and immediately after Villarreal made a double change, Cristiano Ronaldo tore through the center of the defense, exchanged a brilliant give and go with Ozil, and skated past a diving Diego López to slot home the opening goal.
Things looked rather grim for the ensuing minutes, but Villarreal kept at it and by the end of the match Madrid was looking fatigued and the home side was again threatening. A questionable foul outside the area set up Marcos Senna directly in front of goal, and Iker reacted too late as Senna sent a bouncer around the right side of the Madrid wall and into the back of the net.
Despite the ensuing flurry of expulsions that saw Ramos, Ozil, and Mourinho sent off in the 83rd minute, Madrid regrouped and with nine men managed to put a scare into the Madrigal faithful, who happily accepted the final score of 1-1.
What now? With ten matches left in La Liga—including a Clásico at the camp Nou—there are plenty of reasons to believe in a comeback for FC Barcelona. Although injuries have once again left Barça's back line a bit thin, the Blaugrana are in terrific form, and have some very favorable matchups ahead.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, are looking a little bit shaky, and it will be interesting to see how well their high-paid and high-drama group copes with the added pressure. Mourinho elected for a defensive "trivote" in midfield that yielded more confusion and disorder than defensive stability, and yet again got into it with the referees. Many a proud Madridista will be questioning his tactics and his scruples after another embarrassing performance.
In short, the implosion, or "pinchazo", that every Barcelona fan has been praying for looks to be coming to pass. If Barça can continue to take care of business, La Liga squads like Osasuna, Valencia, and Atlético may do just enough to bring Madrid within range heading into the Camp Nou Clásico. Hay Liga!