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Chukwueze strikes twice as Villarreal stun Real Madrid

Karim Benzema reacts to Villarreal's first goal scored by Samuel Chukwueze. ©AFP

Madrid (AFP) - Real Madrid suffered a 3-2 defeat by Villarreal in La Liga in a thrilling clash ahead of their Champions League showdown against Chelsea next week.

The champions remain 12 points behind leaders Barcelona, who face Girona on Monday, with Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze scoring twice in a sensational individual display.

Pau Torres's own goal sent Madrid in front but Chukwueze levelled before the break.

Vinicius Junior netted a superb solo goal before Jose Luis Morales equalised again and Chukwueze curled home a superb winner, which reduced Madrid's hopes of retaining the title to virtually nothing.

"The league is complicated, that's obvious, but we're alive in two other competitions that we will try to win," said Madrid defender Lucas Vazquez.

Carlo Ancelotti made six changes from the 4-0 Clasico thrashing of Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-final midweek, with Chelsea's visit on Wednesday in mind.

However the Italian coach maintained his attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Rodrygo and Vinicius, looking to put the game to bed early. 

Real Madrid took the lead in the 16th minute after an electric break, with Marco Asensio driving the team forward and Vinicius' low cross ricocheting off Torres into his own net.

Villarreal's veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina made two fine saves to deny Benzema and Rodrygo as Madrid tried to stretch their advantage, while Madrid stopper Thibaut Courtois twice denied Alex Baena from distance.

The visitors levelled late in the first half when Chukwueze's magical footwork left defender Nacho Fernandez for dead, and the Nigerian finished clinically past Courtois.

End to end

Madrid came out flying in the second half and Vinicius scored a brilliant goal of his own, nutmegging defender Aissa Mandi to leave a crowd of perusers behind him, before slipping the ball home.

The Brazilian winger, on 21 goals across all competitions, should have matched his tally of 22 last season but fired into the side netting after being teed up by Benzema.

The French forward, who scored hat-tricks in both his previous two games, was withdrawn before the hour mark to rest him for the Chelsea clash. 

Villarreal pulled themselves level in the 70th minute when Chukwueze's cross caused danger and substitute Morales finished well.

The goal was initially ruled out for offside against Chukwueze, but VAR informed that the Nigerian was onside.

With 10 minutes remaining, Chukwueze scored a brilliant second, curling into the top corner from outside the area, to send Villarreal in front.

It was his fifth goal in his last seven La Liga matches, with Chukwueze in the best form of his career -- so far.

As Madrid scrambled for a leveller they were awarded a penalty when the ball appeared to strike Mandi's arm as he slid along the floor.

However after consulting VAR replays, the referee cancelled his penalty award, and Madrid were beaten.

Villarreal rose to fifth, two points clear of Real Betis, who host Cadiz on Sunday.

Coach Quique Setien lavished praise on Chukwueze.

"For a few weeks he's been giving us a lot, he's a permanent threat," said the former Barcelona boss.

"Not just in goals, but in passes, chances, he's an extraordinary player who is giving us a lot."

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