VILLARREAL (Spain) • Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari believes losing his star forward Gareth Bale to injury midway through his team's LaLiga match at Villarreal cost his side victory.
The European champions endured a frustrating start to the new year on Thursday as they drew 2-2 at struggling Villarreal and were left seven points behind leaders Barcelona.
"We had the victory in our hands and wanted to kill the game. But they came back and got the equaliser," Solari told Movistar.
"They pressed a lot, were playing at home and needed the points.
"Gareth leaving like that cost us as he had a problem and we missed that counter-attacking edge, and Gareth is a specialist at just that. He got a bang and felt something and was not able to continue."
Former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla gave the home side the lead in the fourth minute of the game which was rescheduled due to Real's participation in last month's Club World Cup. He bent a wonderful shot into the bottom corner of Thibaut Courtois' goal.
But Real struck back three minutes later with a headed goal from Karim Benzema.
Raphael Varane then gave the visitors the lead in the 20th but it was 34-year-old Cazorla, having overcome a terrible run of injuries to resurrect his career in Spain, who had the final say with his second goal.
Real have not won their opening away game of a new year since 2014, and Cazorla's late strike prevented them from going level on points with Sevilla, keeping them in fourth place after 17 games.
Apart from conceding early, Real were impressive in the first half but lost their grip on proceedings after Bale was substituted with a knock.
Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric, who helped set up the equaliser, followed Bale off the pitch midway through the second half and Villarreal, spurred on by their supporters, showed more intensity to regain control of the play.
Villarreal, who have reached the last 32 of the Europa League despite a dire domestic season, clawed their way out of the relegation zone to 17th in the standings, level on points with 18th-placed Athletic Bilbao.
"This result will give us strength," said Villarreal coach Luis Garcia, who has taken two points from two games since succeeding the sacked Javi Calleja.
"I imagine that every game from now on will be a battle, a war to survive. But hopefully we'll come through it, and this point gives us a big emotional boost."