Real Madrid suffered a 2-1 defeat at Villarreal on Saturday after a goal and an assist from striker Gerard Moreno gave leaders Barcelona the chance to step up in the title race.
Yeremy Pino opened the scoring for Villarreal just after the break before Real equalized through a Karim Benzema penalty in the 60th minute, but the tie lasted just three minutes as Moreno also scored from the penalty spot to secure the points.
Real remain in second place, level on 38 points with Barça, who visit fourth-placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday, while Villarreal’s third consecutive league win puts them in fifth place.
Villarreal dominated from the start, with Alex Baena and Dani Parejo firing wide before Francis Coquelin hit the post from close range in the fifth minute.
Yeremy had the best chance of the first half after being tackled on goal by Moreno, but Thibaut Courtois quickly stepped out of his line to block the shot.
Real nearly scored against the run of play when Benzema charged into goal alongside teammate Vinicius Jr with only Raul Albiol in his path, but the Villarreal defender showed all his experience to recover the ball and nullify the opportunity.
Benzema also created half a chance for Vinícius towards the end of the first half, but the Brazilian’s shot from an acute angle went straight for goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Villarreal did not take their foot off the accelerator after the break and the pressure was dictated in the 47th minute, when Moreno released Yeremy to attack the goal and fired a powerful shot on goal.
Real Madrid surged into the game after Villarreal’s goal, with Benzema and Vinícius continuing to orchestrate the champions’ attacking efforts.
Juan Foyth appeared to have kept Villarreal ahead with a heroic goal-line block to deny Benzema in the 56th minute but, after a VAR intervention, the referee awarded a penalty to Real for a handball by the defender in the lead-up to the block.
The penalty kick was deftly dispatched by Benzema, but Villarreal were awarded a penalty two minutes later when David Alaba went down, unfortunately, handling the ball.
Moreno converted after Real Madrid’s protests had subsided, sending Courtois the wrong way to put his team back in the lead.
Alaba will leave the Estadio de la Ceramica feeling very ill after his outstretched arm inadvertently touched the ball as he tried to cushion the impact of his fall.
But Real coach Carlo Ancelotti agreed with the decision, telling reporters: “Both penalties were correct according to the rules, so of course the referee must respect it.”
Substitute Arnaut Danjuma squandered a golden opportunity to close out the game for Villarreal in added time, missing an open goal with his shot from the halfway line when Courtois was stuck in opposition territory after stepping up for a corner.
Ancelotti acknowledged that his side were beaten by the opposition, saying: “We couldn’t play at their level.
“We were bad, especially in defence. We tried to create, but we were too open in midfield. We should have done more.”