MADRID -- A much-changed Real Madrid team were beaten 3-2 by Villarreal on Saturday to give up more ground in the LaLiga title race.
Carlo Ancelotti made six changes to the side that beat Barcelona 4-0 in the Copa del Rey but Madrid went ahead in the 16th minute, Marco Asensio's pass deflecting in off defender Pau Torres.
Samuel Chukwueze drew Villarreal level before halftime before Vinicius Junior put Madrid back in front after the break, beating three defenders ahead of a cool finish.
Substitute Jose Luis Morales equalised and Chukwueze fired a spectacular, 80th minute winner to give Villarreal just their second ever win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
1. Madrid stretched by LaLiga, Copa and Champions League demands
This was always going to be an awkward game for Madrid, sandwiched between a Copa del Rey Clasico semifinal second leg at Barcelona and their priority for the rest of the season: keeping their Champions League prospects alive in Wednesday's quarterfinal first leg with Chelsea.
But it's not like they can just throw in the towel at this stage in LaLiga either, despite Barca's sizeable lead at the top of the table. That meant a delicate balancing act from coach Carlo Ancelotti: picking a team strong enough to deal with Villarreal, while simultaneously resting some tired legs.
The result was Luka Modric and Toni Kroos starting on the bench alongside Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde, Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal. It meant David Alaba playing the first half before being replaced by Militao in a pre-planned move, and Karim Benzema being withdrawn after an hour.
Madrid were tested by a talented Villarreal who -- despite an up-and-down season under Quique Setien -- had won their previous two games and look likely to finish in the European places, and were eventually beaten after a rollercoaster second half which could have gone either way.
2. Chukwueze shows star quality on the big stage
It's not often that a visiting player comes to the Bernabeu and outshines every single one of Real Madrid's stars, but that's exactly what Villarreal winger Chukwueze did here.
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The 23-year-old has always been gifted but hasn't always found the consistency -- or had the opportunities -- to support that talent. This was an all-round performance that the fans present in this stadium will be talking about for a long, long time, scoring twice -- both outstanding goal-of-the-weekend contenders -- and playing a pivotal role in Villarreal's other goal, too.
His first goal might have been the moment of the match, dancing past the hapless Nacho before finishing well, before his second -- curling up and over Courtois to give Villarreal the three points -- came along and topped it.
3. Vinicius Junior's form some consolation for Madrid
A home defeat always hurts, but this wasn't a game without positives for Madrid -- and one of them was the performance of Vinicius Junior.
His goal might have been overshadowed by Chukwueze's, but it was special in its own right -- skipping through the Villarreal defence as the second half got underway -- and with a bit more luck, he could have had a second-half hat trick, putting two shots inches wide.
Vinicius is now one of the leaders of this Real Madrid team, and in Benzema's absence could be seen visibly encouraging the Bernabeu crowd to get behind them in the second half.
It's now two goals and three assists in Vinicius' last three games, coming into form at just the right time, with a Champions League quarter-final on the horizon.
Best and worst performers
Best: Samu Chukwueze, Villarreal
An unforgettable performance. Scored the visitors' first goal, created their second, and then scored their winner.
Best: Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid
Could have had a second-half hat trick but had to settle for just the one goal.
Best: Gio Lo Celso, Villarreal
Did well in an unfamiliar false nine role.
Worst: Pau Torres, Villarreal
Scored an own goal and had a difficult night all round.
Worst: Nacho Fernandez, Real Madrid
Won't want to watch a replay of Chukwueze's first goal.
Worst: Ramon Terrats, Villarreal
Got injured early and had little time to make an impact.
Highlights and notable moments
Vinicius Jr. nutmegs defender before scoring goal
Vinicius Jr. puts Real Madrid up 2-1 as he puts a ball between a defender's leg for impressive goal.
Chukwueze's stunner all but ends Madrid's LaLiga hopes
Samu Chukwueze finds the back of the net from outside of the box to give Villarreal a 3-2 lead.
After the match: What the managers and Players said
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti on the result: "It was a difficult game, it was hard to win the ball back, they controlled it well. We had chances and we could have made it 3-1, then the rhythm dropped. We could have defended better. The truth is it was hard for us to be 100% motivated, that's normal."
Ancelotti on what went wrong: "It was hard for us to get the ball back, we tried to win it in their half, and we weren't balanced. That's the reason we conceded three goals. Villarreal control the ball well, they press you. But we went ahead twice, we could have scored a third to finish the game, we couldn't get the third goal and we lost the game."
Ancelotti on whether he'll revert to the starting line-up that beat Barcelona days ago in the Copa del Rey: "We could do, yes. I made changes because of the effort against Barcelona demanded a lot of us, mentally too. The game didn't turn out well but now we'll think about Wednesday."
Real Madrid defender Lucas Vazquez: "We've been playing really well but today we didn't. It could be useful to get ready for Wednesday in the Champions League, we can't think about it too much, we have to work, to improve and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Real Madrid's loss to Villarreal is their first LaLiga home loss this season (first since March 2022, 4-0 vs Barcelona). The loss snaps a 17-game unbeaten streak at home in league play.
Real Madrid lose 3 games in which they held a lead for the first time in a season since at least 2010-11. In the previous 3 seasons, they lost just 2 such LaLiga games.
The own goal by Villarreal's Pau Torres is the second own-goal Real Madrid has benefitted from this season in all competitions. The other was by Barcelona's Ronald Araújo on March 19.
Samu Chukwueze scored his second goal vs. Real Madrid as a member of Villarreal in all competitions. Real Madrid is the sixth team he has scored multiple goals against while at Villarreal (three vs. Levante and Barcelona).
Samu Chukwueze is the first player with a multi-goal game in LaLiga vs Barcelona or Real Madrid (excluding Players from those teams) since Celta's Iago Aspas on Nov. 6, 2021.
Real Madrid: Los Blancos shift their focus to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday, April 12 against Chelsea at 3 p.m. ET. Then, they resume LaLiga action when they visit Cadiz on Saturday, April 15 (watch live at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+).
Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine host Real Valladolid in LaLiga action on Saturday, April 15 (watch live at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN+).