Villarreal and Athletic Club showed it's possible to play entertaining football in the early game in Spain. Too often these noon kickoffs are timid affairs, but this one was entertaining right from the start, with both sides attacking up and down the pitch.
Marcos Senna gave Villarreal the lead with a free kick within ten minutes, and the yellow squad dominated the first thirty minutes or so of the first half, though the visitors began to come more into it as the interval approached. Both teams were pressing the other constantly in midfield to create counterattacks, and how Ander Herrera got away with fouling Senna time and time again I have no idea. I also have no idea how Senna went into the referee's book for a clash of heads with Ander when the two were both vying for a ball in the air!
The Submarine had a couple of opportunities to add to their tally, most notably when a Cani shot flashed over the bar and a Nilmar header (!) was just over the top, they were unable to do so. Both of those opportunities were set up by Martinuccio, who also flashed a shot wide. But at the other end Los Leones had chances too, the best of which was a free header from a corner that Javi Martinez powered just over when it would have been easier to score.
HT Villarreal 1-0 Athletic Club
Marco Ruben had come off for Nilmar towards the end of the half, the Argentinian apparently having a twinge in his right leg, and now it was the turn of Athletic to bring on their highly-paid striker, Llorente. You just knew he would score against us.
He should have done so within ten minutes of his introduction when Iraola found him inside the box with a fine cross, but he headed wide. Ten minutes later, though, he duly did so from a Toquero cross. But we had created some chances at the other end, too, so you knew it wasn't over yet.
Unfortunately, though, it was Athletic who scored the next goal, and within four minutes at that. Angel Lopez lost the ball just inside the attacking half, Ander got it and played a quick ball out to Susaeta motoring down our left. He outran Gonzalo (of course) and hit a low shot that got past Diego Lopez--he'll blame himself for that one, because he really should have stopped it. Especially since Bruno had gotten back to cut out anything headed for the far post, so being beaten on the short side was really not very good.
Cani came on for Camuñas and Villarreal went briefly to a 4-3-3, but while I was still trying to figure that out, the Submarine equalized! A defender (I did not see who it was, maybe Mikel San José?) failed to stop a Camunas pass to Martinuccio. Gorka Iriazoz saved his shot, but spilled it into the path of Nilmar who followed up with a goal. Deservedly so, since he had done excellent work shortly before their second but pulled his shot just wide of the far post with the keeper beaten.
So, 2-2 with 22 minutes to go, and it really looked as though Villarreal might get a third, while the Basques tried to it us on the counter and aim balls for the dangerous Llorente. But have I said recently how inept this referee was? Hernan Perez came on for the tiring Martinuccio with twn minutes left, and shortly afterward went off the pitch for treatment after being hacked on the ankle. There was no yellow card, not even a foul given.
While he was off Ibai Gomez nearly won it for Athletic from a fast break but Diego Lopez somehow tipped his shot wide, having saved from Llorente shortly before (Fernando tried to put the ball between Lopez's legs on the short side as Susaeta had done, but this time Diego was ready for it). But suddenly all was chaos in the Villarreal half. Apparently Gonzalo had come up lame and we were struggling to readjust since he could hardly move and we'd used all our subs, but we couldn't slow the game down or get the ball out of danger long enough to do it. Lopez had to make another outstanding save on Gomez again and Susaeta shot wide.
The last play of the game was perhaps typical; Borja was hacked down in the middle of the pitch, no call, and our final attack died away. A draw wasn't the worst result we could have had today for sure, but we certainly didn't deserve less.
FT Villarreal 2-2 Athletic Club
The team played much better than against Granada or Mallorca, though had Muinain and De Marcos been available, or the visitors not had a Thursday game, who knows what might have happened. For me, a draw against these guys was not a bad result, especially if we can follow it up with a road win next week.
Borja and Cani had only two shots between them (neither on the net) and Marco Ruben had none in his time on the pitch, Javi Martinez keeping him in check. But Nilmar and Martinuccio had 11 shots between them. The Argentinian needs to work on his finishing, but he looked very good, making himself available for passes and showing nice individual talent to create chances.
Nilmar looked much better, and hopefully that goal will help his confidence. (Had he been able to put that chance five minutes before inside the far post, we'd be talking about that as a goal of the season).
Diego Lopez will feel bad about the second goal, but he made some spectacular saves. Zapata played pretty well; he did give the ball away once in midfield, but Angel did that several times. Gonzalo just couldn't stay close enough to Llorente to keep him off the scoresheet, but that's hard to do.
Now to Zaragoza and a big away game. Endavant!!