Rafael Benitez challenged his Real Madrid players to show their title credentials after they passed up the chance to close in on La Liga’s leaders by losing 1-0 at Villarreal on Sunday.
Barcelona were hit by a late fight-back in a 2-2 draw with Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, allowing Atletico Madrid to drew level on points with the defending champions at the summit by coming from a goal down to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 a day later.
Madrid could not emulate their city rivals later in the day as they failed to find a response to Roberto Soldado’s eighth-minute opener at El Madrigal and they now sit five points off the pace.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Benitez lamented as poor first-half showing from his team as Villarreal were unfortunate not to take a more substantial lead into the interval.
“It’s hard to explain that first half,” he said. “I wanted to see a team like the second half but [in the first half] we were not right.
“I don’t think that today we lost the Liga title. The top teams will lose points too.
“We have to analyse why we didn’t play the first half like the second one. Sometimes this happens.
“To fight for the Liga you have to win many matches and with this situation we have to demonstrate that we go for the trophy.”
Benitez praised his side’s attacking intent after the break and defended his decision not to make a substitution until Mateo Kovacic replaced Luka Modric in the 79th minute.
“In second half we were better than them and I thought that it was just a matter of time to find the goal,” he said.
“I left the changes late because the team was doing well. The only positive was the team’s reaction in the second half.
“This is still the team with the most shots in La Liga.”