Hamilt Altintop slid in on Joan Oriol, referee Paradas Romero gave the foul, Marcos Senna struck the free-kick, Nilmar ducked and Iker Casillas dived. Too late. The ball sneaked in by the post and the lid to Pandora's box swung open. José Mourinho abused the ref. Red. Sergio Ramos did one of those wild and angry Sergio Ramos challenges. Red. Mesut Ozil applauded sarcastically. Red. Down the tunnel they went, where Rui Faria, Mourinho physical trainer, was waiting. He'd been given his red 34 minutes before – his fourth of the season. Lassana Diarra was there too, a picture of bemused tranquillity: standing passively, headphones on, as all around him people lost their heads.

When Ozil got there, he gestured for the fans to shut it. Cristiano Ronaldo gestured too, waggling his fingers to signify a robbery; a sleight of hand had seen their points vanish. And yet he was the only one that seemed to realise that those points could still reappear. It was 1-1 between Villarreal and Real Madrid, there were eight minutes left, plus at least a couple of minutes of stoppage-time, against a frankly pretty poor side and Ronaldo tried to drag his team back into it. His team, though, had become a deadweight on his back, victims of their own fury, paralysed by the injustice of it all. Virtually nothing had happened before Senna's goal, just fouls and faking, and virtually nothing would happen after it either.

When the final whistle blew, Gonzalo Higuaín had a word or three. Yellow. It was the 14th yellow of the night: nine for Madrid, including two each for Mourinho and Ramos; five for Villarreal. Two of those appeared to be for Marco Rubén, but he was not sent off. The ref's report later said the first had actually been for Senna. Ronaldo walked off shouting: "All they do is rob [us]! All they do is rob!" As for Pepe, the man who had bizarrely been booked earlier in the game for getting fouled, parading after Paradas Romero to show him his bleeding lip, he politely shook the referee's hand. That's what he did in public, anyway: according to the referee's report, in the shadow of the tunnel he let rip with: "What a robbery, hijo de puta."

The Madrid media was busy preparing its covers. "HOT, HOT!" said AS; Marca led on a huge "ESCANDALO". Mourinho decided that he was not going to speak. His spokesman did, albeit in the opinions-expressed-here-are-mine-alone mode. "I request silence and respect," he tweeted, punnily using Paradas's name, which sort of means "arrest". "Because football has died of a cardiac arrest." As Mourinho strode out of the Madrigal stadium, someone shouted: "What happened?"

Mourinho snapped back: "Didn't you see?"

Well, yes. And no. We saw a bit of everything. Well, everything except football. What we did not see was anything that explained a fallout quite so nuclear. We saw a pretty dull game, stopped constantly – there were 40 fouls and Paradas seemed obsessed by what was happening on the touchline as much as by what was happening on the pitch. It was illuminated by just two moments: Senna's free-kick and Ozil's wonderful assist for Ronaldo's opener, a move superbly started and finished by Madrid's top scorer. We saw Villarreal get a great point under their new coach, Miguel-Angel Lotina. What we didn't see was them play particularly well: when the free-kick arrived it was pretty much the first time they had been out of their half in the second period.

We didn't see Madrid play particularly well either: away from home it is a while since they did. And we saw it happen again, for the second time in a row: Madrid go one up, fail to kill the game, and draw 1-1 after a late free-kick from a Euro 2008 winner. We saw them drop four points in four days to reopen the title race tentatively, and a reaction that suggested they had lost it entirely. They had certainly lost it. "We're going to win this league," cheered Sport, as if Barcelona had moved into first place. They then added the Marca-invented Canguelo to their cover; a phrase they criticised and now copied. "Heebie-jeebies in Madrid". It won't be long before they're co-opting the Crappingyourselfometer.

The nature of the narrative in Spain is set and has been for some time. Every match up to 28 players play but you'd think that the only one who really played was the only one who is not a player. The referee is at the centre, always and forever. Even when he gets things right, his "doubtful" decisions are highlighted. Mistakes are replayed over and over and over again. Brilliant goals are not. And mistakes are rarely just mistakes; they are a conspiracy. Before every match there is an analysis – of the two teams and of the referee. You're told that Madrid/Barcelona have never lost with Referee A. So it must be his fault. It has become skewed and paranoid. Pathetic.

It is best to resist. At times, though, resistance is futile. Times such as last night. Because on Wednesday, Paradas Romero was at the heart of it all. Which, thinking about it, may well be the way they want it. On Wednesday night, he lost control and lost the plot. Yet not nearly as much as everyone else did. And that's the thing that sticks. Draws have become the new defeats and two draws in a row are a disaster but this latest reaction was oddly over the top. One interpretation is that it was an act of genius, a way of diverting attention from other problems – such as the fact that Madrid look a little heavy-legged – and blaming the referee for their failure to win. Another is that they were out of control; certainly the approach, if it can be called an "approach", did them no favours.

Madrid had conceded an equaliser against Villarreal. But rather than use the 10 minutes remaining to chase the winner, rather than thinking that their lead at the top of the table, while shortened, remained a hugely significant six points, rather than contemplating the fact that Barcelona dropped points there too, or recalling that they dropped points two games in a row earlier this season and still pulled away from Barcelona, there was a kind of implosion.

Madrid did not really have much to complain about: the foul that led to the free-kick was questionable but probably correct; Villarreal had two good penalty shouts turned down in the first half; and Ramos and Mourinho's reds are right. Ozil's may not be, but a player knows that sarcastic clapping is likely to get him in trouble. Mourinho, Ramos and Ozil's reds all came after the goal – a product of a tension and frustration that, if understandable, hardly helped. They do not explain the goal and they do not explain the result up to then. That resides more in Casillas's slow reaction, in Madrid's failure to close the game, in Altintop's foul, in the lack of creativity. What they may explain is the result after then: the cards, the tension, the confrontation, the destruction of the game … together they added to a kind of abdication.

The point is not so much the referee's actions as Madrid's; the fact that they lost it surprisingly easily. Angry reactions are understandable. Skewed ones too: you can't expect a player to see every decision clearly and you certainly can't expect him to see every decision objectively. Angry reactions are also nothing new. What was striking was the impotence. The two things need not go hand in hand: Ronaldo was among the angriest, but he was the one that led the attempt to win the game back. His anger was channelled constructively. The same can't be said for others'. Reds for Ramos and Ozil not only made that fightback harder but will keep them out for the next game, too. Mourinho was not on the bench to make changes here; he won't be on Saturday either.

Mourinho's decision not to speak may have been the right one – he would have been likely to say something detrimental to his own interests and by not talking he avoids pouring more fuel on the fire – but league rules say that someone has to appear in the post-match press conference. By not doing so, and not letting any of the players talk, the sensation of drama is heightened. The sense of tension and pressure grows. Which is strange because Madrid's position is still extremely good and the assumption that Barcelona will win the clásico is a dangerous one. As the match report in AS put: "Madrid lost more than four points in the last four days; they lost their composure." "Hay Liga," ran the headline, there is a league. "There are also nerves."

Talking points

• For the first time ever, a team that were bottom of the league won away from home with a man fewer than their opposition. And for about the hundredth time ever, Mestalla got out the hankies and waved them at their coach. Unai Emery's grip on his job got even weaker after his side was defeated 2-1 by Zaragoza, who were down to 10 men from the 21st minute and down to nine for the final five.

• Who'd win a fight between a lion and a tiger? At last we have definitive proof: the tiger. Radamel Falcao, the tiger, scored twice as Atlético Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.

• Blimey. It may be time to take Levante seriously: they may actually get that Champions League place after all (although Málaga play on Thursday night).

• Messi. You know already, right?

Results: Osasuna 0-0 Getafe, Barcelona 5-3 Granada, Atlético 2-1 Athletic, Sporting 2-3 Mallorca, Real Sociedad 1-3 Levante, Valencia 1-2 Zaragoza, Villarreal 1-1 Madrid; Betis-Espanyol, Racing-Sevilla, Málaga-Rayo: Thursday night.