The 34-year-old showed he still has plenty to offer with two goals and a brilliant display as the European champions started 2019 on the wrong foot
The calendar moved forward from 2018 to 2019, but Villarreal playmaker Santi Cazorla rolled back the years with two goals on Thursday night to peg back European and world champions Real Madrid.
The former Arsenal hero curled home brilliantly to break the deadlock against fourth-placed Madrid and after Santiago Solari’s side fought their way back on top, Cazorla scored a rare header to earn Villarreal a 2-2 draw on Spain’s east coast.
Cazorla is 34 but, having missed large chunks of his career because of severe injury problems, is making up for lost time back at the club he began his career.
Although it took him a few months to find his feet, two assists against Real Betis at the end of November, including a backheel, showed Cazorla still had the magic touch which saw him thrill fans in England.
And fresh from the winter break he completed the 90 minutes for only the fourth time this season against Madrid, producing two goals which ended Solari’s run of clean sheets and domestic wins at three.
Madrid had been building up steam with Marcos Llorente in defensive midfield, but an untimely injury saw Casemiro brought back into the side, and Cazorla took advantage.
With Madrid not quite yet organised, Cazorla popped up to curl home the electric Samuel Chukwueze’s pass.
To Solari’s credit, Madrid did not take long to turn the game around, with Benzema impressing up front.
Perhaps the French forward had a point to prove as rumours continue to swirl over Madrid signing a forward to replace Cristiano Ronaldo.
Benzema was in the right place at the right time to nod home the equaliser in the seventh minute, his fifth headed goal of the season in all competitions – more than any other player in Spain.
His strike partner Bale was taken off injured for the third time this season, and has been substituted due to physical problems 13 times across his career at Madrid according to Spanish football statistician Mister Chip.
The Welshman’s injury record over half-a-decade at Madrid is evidence enough that he can never be relied upon to be Real Madrid’s main man.
Yes, the forward delivers on the big occasions, but Los Blancos can never be 100 percent sure he’ll be fit enough to play in the first place.
Raphael Varane headed home in the 20th minute to turn the game around and previous Madrid sides would have made light work of Villarreal, 17th, from there.
But even with Benzema looking lively in the middle, Madrid did not create enough in midfield to give the forward ammunition, while the Yellow Submarine worked earnestly and started to create chances to equalise.
Eventually Cazorla did, stealing in at the back post to head past Thibaut Courtois and secure a valuable point for his side. It was his first brace in La Liga for over seven years.
Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, both removed by Solari as the coach tried in vain to hamper the hosts, could still learn a thing or two from yesterday’s man.