Pablo Fornals scored a sumptuous late goal to snatch all three points for Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabéu, and leave Real Madrid winless in their last three La Liga games.
The home side created multiple chances in the opening period, but were denied repeatedly by visiting goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, as well as the linesman who ruled out Gareth Bale’s converted header for offside.
Villarreal resisted more second half pressure, and produced a swift counter-attack towards the end, which resulted in a Fornals clipping the ball beyond Los Blancos stopper Keylor Navas to silence the Madrid crowd and give his team a memorable win.
After a poor run of results – including a humbling defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona, as well as a draw to second division side Numancia – Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was already under heavy scrutiny coming into this fixture.
His players, however, were bright and purposeful from the beginning of this game, and were denied a goal when Bale was deemed to have drifted into an offside position when he nodded home Cristiano Ronaldo’s headed assist following a corner.
Marcelo and Ronaldo both stung the hands of Asenjo with powerful efforts midway through the first half, as the hosts drew closer to finding a breakthrough goal.
Ronaldo narrowly struck wide on two more occasions either side of Carlos Bacca’s low strike for Villarreal, which tested goalkeeper Navas for the first time.
Ronaldo – Real’s most likely scorer throughout – came closest on the 45-minute mark, but Asenjo’s miraculous save kept the scores level at the interval.
After the break, Villarreal almost netted themselves, but Denis Cheryshev – formerly of Real Madrid – dragged his shot wide of the post.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric failed to snatch a deciding goal in what was becoming another frustrating day for Zidane’s men.
With the final whistle drawing ever closer, Villarreal pounced to steal an unlikely victory with a breath-taking counter-attack.
Cheryshev was released on the left-hand side following some neat Villarreal passes, and the Russian squared to Enes Ünal, whose saved effort broke to Fornals who composedly chipped the ball over Navas from the edge of the penalty area.
The result means Javier Calleja’s team climb to fifth place in La Liga, and are now only a point behind Real Madrid, who have a game in hand over the triumphant visitors.