Another week, another away defeat in La Liga. Good thing we have the Europa League and Copa del Rey to make us feel better (thanks to the inferior competition). This recap covers the Sporting and Levski games.
- Diego Lopez. Only 1 goal conceded in 2 matches, and that was a rebound off a penalty. Wonderful job to stop penalties hit by 2 different Sporting players, but his defenders let him down in clearing the rebound before Bilic could tuck away the decisive 1:0 goal. However, two early gaffes against Sporting saw de las Cuevas cleanly beat him, only to strike the woodwork, and a shot from distance go awry. He needs to be more careful when playing the ball up the middle of the park, as the Xerez disaster should bring to mind.
- Bruno. And I thought Bruno would never again play better than Senna. Well, I was happily proven wrong in Gijon. Bruno was arguably our best player in the first half, sticking his nose in at every turn and staying strong on the ball in traffic. His distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, but you need one bulldog in every midfield. For the moment, he may be to Valverde what Eguren was to Pellegrini.
- Giuseppe Rossi. Another week, another beautiful goal. His 1:0 goal against Levski, which he controlled and then struck in mid-air on the turn, may have been the most skillful goal of the year by a Villarreal player. He also gets high marks for working his socks off in the Sporting match. Not only was he the most dangerous player going forward, he tracked back and generally harassed the Sporting defense as much as possible despite seeing little of the ball. Hope his work ethic rubs off on Nilmar, and maybe Nilmar can teach him a thing or two about aerial play.
- Gonzalo Rodriguez. At some point, you run out of nice things to say about people. My mom told me: then don't say anything at all. So I'll leave you with a reminder: this was his fourth sending-off of the season. Real Madrid, @Puertollano, and Lazio are the other matches in which he has jeopardized the team's chances. The foul against Sporting does not top his ludicrous challenge against Lazio, but I'm pretty confident that Diego Lopez would have saved from de las Cuevas at such close range. Godin and Marcano, get ready to play a lot of matches this season.
- Set piece defending. Our old nemesis, back again to haunt us. Gonzalo is the #1 reason we did not take a point from Gijon, but really Sporting should have scored before then. At least 3 corners were met by unmarked Sporting defenders in the box, but they all missed the target (I guess that's why they don't play up front). We saw the same issues in Bilbao thanks to a certain Fernando Llorente; don't look now, but Getafe's Roberto Soldado is a similar type of player. Teams in La Liga will continue to exploit this weakness if the central midfielders and defenders don't pick up the slack.
- Nilmar. This is not for failing to create chances in Gijon, as quite frankly he was deprived of service. And he and Rossi are starting to combine well, although a bit more of a Route 1 approach would be nice. The problem with Nilmar, and I imagine this is why he left Lyon, is that he has a tendency to disappear. Note that (1) I think he's a wonderful talent; and (2) a number of great strikers (Adebayor immediately comes to mind) have the same problem, but unfortunately Villarreal is not Arsenal, and La Liga is not the EPL. Every player has to work hard and find a way to contribute in every match, or the team will fail collectively. This is where Valverde comes in: to work on tweaking Nilmar's mindset to come deeper for the ball or play more with his back to goal. It would be a shame for Nilmar's nearly limitless potential to be unrealized.