A poor referee and a poor Espanyol keep Villarreal at bay

Borja Valero SHOULD have had a penalty awarded to him today, but yet another poor decision by a poor referee went against him (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Well folks, this is not an easy game to describe in detail, nor is it worth it. Villarreal and Espanyol played (I can't say battled) to a dour 0-0 draw at El Madrigal, with a clear penalty on Borja Valero and two probably legitimate goals (one at either end) denied by referee Gonzalez Gonzalez.

Villarreal started what has come to be its standard XI under Lotina, except Camuñas replaced the brittle Nilmar. The ex-Osasuna man was pretty much playing as a midfielder, and as Sid noted in our podcast, that hasn't worked all season, nor did it today. Cani was essentially playing between the middle four and Marco Ruben, with Borja in midfield.

Espanyol's Coutinho failed a late fitness test, I guess, because Weiss started in his place. The first half can be briefly summarized. Espanyol's main threat came from Sergio Garcia down our right--he began in a lively fashion, breaking past Joan Oriol several times in the first 20 minutes and creating chances for Uche and Weiss, but nothing came of them.

As the game moved on Villarreal became more comfortable defensively, and most of the first half was played in the middle third of the pitch and it seemed as though both sides were so afraid of losing all three points that they were unwilling to throw a lot into attack.

The only real talking point occurred just after the half-hour. Musacchio's header from a corner was saved by Casilla, but though he was on the ground with one hand on the ball it wasn't clear he had control of it, and Marco Ruben kicked the ball into the net. Villarreal players thought they had scored, but referee Gonzalez waved off the goal and penalized Ruben for a foul. A strange call.

Shortly afterward Ruben fed Cani and his shot beat the keeper, but was volleyed off the line by Didac. As for the rest of the half, nothing much happened.

HT Villarreal 0-0 Espanyol

The second half began with a bit more attacking intent form both sides, but again not much actually happened. The referee continued to whistle for ticky-tack fouls in the middle of the pitch and generally stop play far more often than needed, but with about 25 minutes left he inexplicably allowed Forlin to take down Borja in the area on a fast break and called nothing. Forlin never got the ball, his leg came across Borja and he took Valero down. A more clear penalty there could not have been, and it was not given.

Moments later it was Espanyol's turn to feel aggrieved, when Diego Lopez fumbled a corner and Raul Rodriguez volleyed the ball into the net, but again the referee spotted a foul on the keeper and waved off the goal.

Now it was the turn of the linesman at Villarreal's end to get into the action. He waved off a headed goal from Ruben (which was correct) but called Martinuccio offside, and it CLEARLY was not, when a neat backheel from Ruben had played the ex-Peñarol man in all alone. Ruben also had a fine quick shot from an acute angle saved by Casilla--that could have given us the win in spite of all the poor calls.

FT Villarreal 0-0 Espanyol

Overall, Villarreal were the better of the two sides, but that wasn't saying much. As my colleague Sidarth memorably said on one of our podcasts, we understand the rules of the game are such that if you don't give up a goal you can't lose, so at least I can report we ran our unbeaten streak to three matches. But given that Real Sociedad, Real Zaragoza, Real Betis and Granada found a way to do more than that this week, this feels like two points dropped at home rather than a point won.

If we can win against Malaga, Racing and Osasuna, or against two of those plus (say) Betis next week, I doubt we will care about today. It was clear that Lotina has really been spending a lot of time working with our defense, and that's good; we looked nothing like the team that was so fragile in defense under Garrido and Molina.

But Lotina needs to work on the offensive part of our game. The Camuñas-Ruben combination did not work; in the first half Ruben hardly saw the ball. In the second half he was better, but he was particularly better once Martinuccio came on. He needs to start, because without him we have no one up front who can dribble past defenders and create any attacking play! And why is Hernán Pérez not even dressed for games like this? We were too slow, too dour, too predictable. Especially at home, we need to man the torpedoes and fire away--we only had nine shots (three on goal) to show for our efforts today. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

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