BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Santi Cazorla enjoyed his finest night since returning to the Spanish league on Thursday as the veteran midfielder scored two goals to earn Villarreal a 2-2 home draw with Real Madrid.
They were the 34-year-old Cazorla’s first La Liga goals since rejoining Villarreal after several seasons at Arsenal, the last of which was plagued by injury. He had already scored in the Europa League and the Copa del Rey this season.
“It is a special night, scoring two goals against Real Madrid and to score again in La Liga,” Cazorla said. “I am in better shape and in less pain. I am feeling better as I go along.”
Cazorla used one touch to expertly curl a pass from Samuel Chukwueze just inside the far post to give Villarreal a fourth-minute lead.
Madrid responded quickly with headed goals from Karim Benzema in the seventh and Raphael Varane in the 20th to apparently take control.
But the visitors lost Gareth Bale to an injury late in the first half, with Francisco “Isco” Alarcon replacing him at halftime.
Villarreal dominated possession and most of the scoring chances in the second half as Chukwueze repeatedly threatened on the break.
Madrid coach Santiago Solari substituted midfielder and Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric for little used Federico Valverde midway through the second half, but his team remained on the defensive.
Cazorla then scored the 82nd-minute equalizer by heading Pablo Fornals’ pass through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Cazorla, who has over 70 goals in more than 500 professional appearances, said that this was just his second ever scored with a header.
“Santi is an example for all us,” said Villarreal coach Luis Garcia Plaza. “I am thrilled to see him back at this level, not just for him but for all of Spanish football.”
The match was played on Thursday after being postponed last month so Madrid could play in the Club World Cup.
Madrid was left in fourth place, seven points behind leader Barcelona. Villarreal moved out of the relegation zone with the point.
Both sides must recover quickly for matches on Sunday, when Madrid hosts Real Sociedad and Villareal visits Eibar.
“We are disappointed,” Courtois said. “Obviously today’s match was one to win to close the gap (with the frontrunners). But now we have to get ready for Sunday.”