Call it Lotinazo, Lotina effect or whatever you like. It seems to be working. This is one of the best performances of Villarreal this season if not the absolute best.
Zaragoza upset Atlético and got within 3 points of Villarreal. This was a team dead in water three weeks ago on 18 points. They came back to beat a timid Villarreal at La Romareda. Now they have 25 points, tied with Sporting who drew at Athletic and Racing who also got a point at Betis. All this meant Villarreal needed all 3 points at Vallecas to keep the drop-zone at bay.
Lotina lined-up a very typical 4-4-2 of Villarreal. Nilmar & Ruben upfront supported by Borja Valero and Cani on the wings with a doble-pivot of Senna & Bruno.
Rayo Vallecano 4-2-3-1
Joel; Tito, Arribas, Labaka, Casado; Javi Fuego, Trashorras; Piti, Michu, Armenteros; Diego Costa
Diego López, Mario, Zapata, Musacchio, Oriol, Senna, Bruno, Cani, Borja Valero, Nilmar, Marco Ruben
Great first half by the Submarine
Villarreal dominated possession from the get go and never let Rayo settle in their backyard. Nilmar made some good runs off the ball and Cani was finding the passing lanes easily. Still, there weren't many clear cut chances early on. Ruben was a constantly troubling the Rayo defense. Rayo keep Joel made some good judgement calls of coming off his line early to snuff out what could have been good goalscoring opportunities for Villarreal.
0-1 Marco Ruben.
Rayo's midfield missing Movilla (on the bench) was being constantly overwhelmed by Senna, Borja and Cani. Both sides seemed a bit sloppy keeping possession in their own half and were guilty of giving away possession cheaply on occasion, especially Rayo.
On one such play, Borja stole the ball from a Rayo defender in front of the 18 yard box and passes to Cani, whose exquisite chip beats the onrushing Joel and hits the crossbar but luckily for Villarreal, the poacher instincts of Marco Ruben ensured the opportunity wasn't wasted. Ruben headed in from close range to score a deserving go-ahead goal for Villarreal on the 30 minute mark.
Villarreal continued to dominate the game in general and Nilmar should have made it 0-2 when he had a clear view of the goal, albeit from an angle with only the goalkeeper to beat.
One of the refreshing features of the 180 minutes of Villarreal under Lotina is that it seems like players know what they are doing. Especially in defence. This is strikingly different from the Garrido or the Molina era. There were some hairy moments in the 1st half but they look more solid than before. They are pressing more aggressively in their own half. There is a certain air of certainity and simplicity to the defence. They are not trying the "offside trap" every time an opponent is close to their box. Gone are the passive defending ways of standing 2 meters away from the player and watch him do his thing.
2nd half - Lass was a constant threat
Rayo inserted Lass on the right wing in the 2nd half.(yes Rayo have their own Lass and he is a much better player than his more popular namesake crosstown at Real Madrid). The effect was instant. He got behind the yellow defence on multiple occasions and created doubt in the Villarreal players and the nervous fans. But most of the time he either was wayward in his final ball or his teammates would let him down.
Another defensive giveaway this time on a back pass into th box of Rayo leads to a penalty for Villarreal. Ruben takes a decent one to his left but Joel made a great save to deny him.
Rayo sent in veterans Movilla and Raul Tamudo in search of an equalizer. Lass was a live wire on the right all of 2nd half. There were a few concerning aerial balls that Villarreal defence huffed and puffed to clear. Deigo Lopez was in a zone and saved a couple of certain goals.
Just when Rayo was having their best spell of the game powered by Lass and Movilla, Villarreal kill the game with great counterattack. Martinuccio passed the ball to Ruben i the area. With his back to the goal Ruben lays it in the path of the onrushing Ángel. Ángel's first time shot beats Joel at the near post. 0-2 in the 84th minute.
0-2 FT - And that, was that.
Rayo had a few chances at later on in the added time but a determined Diego Lopez was up to them and kept the clean-sheet.
Great team performance. I cant stress how focused and decisive the back-4 looks. We still have issues dealing with dynamic wingers and aerial balls but if we defend like we did today as unit, opponents will find it hard to score.
31 points, level with Granada and a point behind Betis and more importantly 6 points clear of Zaragoza, Sporting and Racing.
Next up: Espanyol at El Madrigal 21:30 CET on 4/1. Endavant Vilarreal