The Yellow Submarine played far from a perfect match on Sunday afternoon at La Romareda. But for 75 minutes, I had quite a few candidates for this segment. Then the roof caved in, and my choices became more limited.
3 DOWN: José Molina, Carlos Marchena, Ángel López.
Martinuccio. A debut goal for the Argentine striker. Our best player on the day, he was key to our first-half dominance. And not too responsible for the numerous chances spurned to put the game out of sight. Subbed on the hour mark for a completely ineffective Rubén Cani. Puzzling if not due to injury; troubling if so.
J. Costa. A solid debut for the former Valencia 'B' left back. His crosses were better than Joan Oriol's, and his pace superior to José Manuel Catalá's. Nice to know we have another option in the system; as a 'B' team follower, I'm not surprised. More, please.
Senna. In a year when most of the team has been subpar, injured, or both, the captain has delivered above expectations. He's not the same player who controlled Euro 2008, but he is back to playing 90 minutes at a high level. The deflection on the 2-1 goal was an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise fantastic performance, including bossing the box on a number of set pieces.
Honorable mention: Javier Camuñas (assist; another solid all-around performance).
Molina. I was reminded of Juan Carlos Garrido's decisions away to Osasuna in December. I'll give Molina the benefit of the doubt for removing Martinuccio--that he had a knock--but why bring on a midfielder? Then Nilmar came off, leaving Camuñas and Joselu Moreno up front. Make it Borja and Joselu with ten minutes left. Not the way to close out a match.
And the final change was antithetical to the Villarreal way. Removing your three most advanced players, leaving a second-division striker and worn-out midfielder on an off day to hold the ball, is a recipe for disaster. And so it proved. Marchena gave away the free kick that led to the 1-1 goal, and a lack of focus did us in. It's not all on the coach, but the players have to perform for someone. On Sunday, it was not for Molina.
Marchena. Speaking of the wily veteran, he cost us dearly in his 10 minutes on the pitch. After defending set pieces with aplomb for 80 minutes, Marchena's needless foul on Edu Oriol on the left touchline was the straw that broke our backs. Then he kicked out at Luis García well after the whistle and earned a yellow. When you're a defensive substitute and your team concedes twice late, you haven't done your job. Case in point.
Á. Lopez. The Canarian is not fully recovered from last season's injury at the Bernabéu. That or his play has declined significantly over the past eighteen months. His pace, never a strong suit, has slowed to the point that he can only play at one end of the pitch. Maybe that's why Garrido brought him into the doble pivote earlier this season. Mario Gaspar is still a work in progress, so Ángel isn't going anywhere right now, but his contract renewal is in serious question.