After Villarreal played pretty well in losing at Malaga, and posted wins against Betis and Rayo, Submarine supporters could be excused for expecting their team to show up today. Especially since Cani and Nilmar returned to the squad for the first time in two months.
However, from the opening whistle all the worst attributes of this team resurfaced. In the opening minute Adrián put a free header from inside the box well over the goal, and our best defender in the first 20 minutes was the linesman in our half, who whistled Stuani for offsides three times, and only one of those calls was correct.
Borja Valero was subdued; Diop dispossessed him several times and he was far more withdrawn. Angel in the doble pivote was offering nothing as far as attack was concerned, and on the rare occasions when Villarreal found themselves in possession in the attacking zone, attacks broke down either through resolute defending, especially on Cani, or mistakes from the Villarreal players, especially Mario.
Santander already looked the more likely of the two squads to score, and it duly happened in the 27th minute. Colsa controlled the ball in midfield, found Manuel Arana down the right, and his cross found the unmarked Stuani (Gonzalo at fault for this one) and his header was true.
In the remainder of the first half not a great deal happened. The Submarine did get forward a bit more, but created nothing. A nice pass from Borja to Oriol, whose pass for Ruben was just too far for him to reach, was about it. A horrible 45 minutes with no shots on goal.
HT Racing 1-0 Villarreal
Juan Carlos Garrido showed what he thought of the first half display, removing Cani and Angel and putting on Nilmar and De Guzman. For about 15 minutes this looked good. The Submarine had more energy, they actually got some shots on goal (though no great chances), but then energy, enthusiasm, whatever you want to call it--just evaporated.
De Guzman had a couple of nice slaloming runs but hesitated to shoot, looking for Ruben instead. Racing was content to defend and make occasional counters (Toño went in the book for timewasting with nearly a half-hour to go, which showed their lack of attacking application) while letting Villarreal kick the ball around the middle of the park.
Moises came on for Gonzalo, Bruno dropping back to defend more if needed, but there was just no threat on the Racing goal for any significant period of time. There was one ball Nilmar nearly got through to Ruben, another cross (from Mario!) which took a deflection and flashed past the feet of an unmarked Moises.
The perfect indication of Villarreal's poor decision-making and performance today came when in the last minute of injury time Borja won a free kick in a dangerous position. Would he hit a screamer, beat Tono, and give us a totally undeserved equalizer? No, he chipped the ball in for an attempted header by Ruben. Absolutely ridiculous.
On the day, a grand total of five shots, two on goal, with 62% possession. Not much else to say.
FT Racing 1-0 Villarreal
Unlike the Malaga game, there were absolutely no positives to take away from this game (well, okay, Nilmar and Cani did return, but...)
Where does this team go from here? More specifically, where does Sr. Roig go from here, both in terms of the management of the team and action in the transfer window? When players of the quality we think we have turn in this kind of performance against the bottom team in the league, something is drastically wrong.
It feels like the finale of a two-year adventure starting with the Xerez debacle under Valverde: Garrido took over, we climbed up into Europe (through the cat-flap, admittedly), nearly made the Europa League final, qualified for the Champions League, but in a few short months have fallen all the way back down to where we were then. Yes, we miss Rossi. Yes, we miss Santi. But our beautiful attacking style of football has gone, and our defense, never our strong point, is woeful. We keep making amateur, schoolboy mistakes that cost us matches.
The remainder of the league schedule isn't going to be important to reach Europe, because it's hard to see how we can given how we played today and how we've played continually on the road this last year. Like it or not, our main focus in 2012 will be on avoiding relegation; there are plenty of bad clubs in La Liga, but we've already managed to lose to two of them on the road (Racing and Granada) and only draw with one at home (Zaragoza).
Cue the future of Garrido debate, cue the formation and personnel debate. I've said enough.