LaLiga leaders Real Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw away at Villarreal on Saturday, as their lead at the top of the table was reduced to just four points.
Real came into the game without injured talisman Karim Benzema and it told as they struggled to gel in an uncharacteristically sluggish first half, before looking more like their old selves after the break.
“We had a number of opportunities to win it but in football you need to take your chances,” said Real midfielder Casemiro.
“The coach ensured we were much better in the second period, which is a performance we will take encouragement from. We’re coming into the business end of the season and we are all working well, pushing in the right direction.
“The coaching staff are always pushing us and we want to win everything this season.”
Real coughed up a number of chances in the opening stages, with Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze a menace throughout, as Real skipper Marcelo struggled against the Nigerian’s pace and directness.
Villarreal forward Arnaut Danjuma hit the post before Real keeper Thibaut Courtois produced a fine save to deny Alberto Moreno from the edge of the box as the home side pushed for an opener.
Real had calls for a penalty waved away as Vinicius Junior went down clutching his face after a coming together with Raul Albiol, while Villarreal were incensed that Marco Asensio was not shown a red card for a high challenge on Vicente Iborra.
The visitors were much-improved after the break, with Gareth Bale — making his first appearance for the club since August — clipping the bar before he and team mate Vinicius were denied in quick succession by Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
Substitute Luka Jovic then hit the bar in stoppage time as Real sought a late winner with fellow replacement Nacho’s follow-up cleared off the line by Serge Aurier.
Madrid move onto 54 points, four ahead of second-placed Sevilla with both sides having played 24 games. Villarreal, meanwhile, are fifth on 36 points.
(Reporting by Joseph Walker; Editing by Toby Davis)