Villarreal did all but win on the scoreboard today at a rollicking El Madrigal against the new galácticos of Real Madrid. With the eyes of the football world upon a tiny Spanish ceramics town, the Yellow Submarine announced its return to La Liga with a captivating performance. 2-2 at full time in an encounter that no one wanted to end.
Villarreal took the lead through Rubén Cani and deserved much more than the 1-1 halftime scoreline. By the way, some guy from Wales scored on his merengue debut. Cristiano Ronaldo gave the visitors a second-half lead after a typical Madrid counterattack – albeit with a rather fortunate ending – but Giovani dos Santos restored a more-than-deserved parity. Jony Pereira, Javier Aquino, and Jaume Costa all missed golden opportunities to further punish a makeshift Madrid backline – the latter with only Pepe to beat.
Five takeaways from Villarreal 2, Real Madrid 2:
Speed kills, and the Submarine has it in spades. Only one change this week: Gio back in for Jérémy Perbet – the same XI as against Valladolid. Manu Trigueros again partnered Bruno Soriano in midfield, complementing a highly mobile front four of Aquino, Cani, Gio, and Jony. All ran tirelessly throughout the match, particularly Jony (for over an hour) and our less renowned Mexican international. More on him later.
Ready, set, go. Yet again, Marcelino García Toral had Villarreal ready for its close-up. According to the statistics, Real Madrid had a 2-1 possession edge late in the first half, but numbers do lie. Early on, a corner fell to an unmarked Jony at the back post, but man of the match Diego López was at the ready. Then came Cani’s tally after a mad scramble in the box – a sliding Madrid defender could only slow the ball’s coronation. And our favorite ex-keeper kept Madrid in the match (imagine that!) by denying Aquino one-on-one with a brilliant double save.
Good teams make you pay. Villarreal shut off for limited spells, but this Real Madrid side needs just an inch to score. Late in the first half, Carvajal galloped down the right past a somewhat exposed Chechu Dorado and centered for the onrushing attackers in white. Mario Gaspar lost his marker, and Gareth Bale tapped in to mark his arrival in Spain.
Midway through the second half, Ronaldo triggered a counter after a loose Villarreal turnover (rare on the day). A yellow shirt failed to take him down (it was not Aquino, the only Villarreal player on a yellow card to that point), and Ronaldo tore at a backpedaling Musacchio. Sergio Asenjo smartly denied Karim Benzema on the initial shot, but the rebound found Ronaldo, and his shot between two defenders deflected back off him, struck Asenjo’s leg, and found the net.
No quit in this bunch. Ikechukwu Uche replaced Jony – the Nigerian striker again was hit-or-miss – and back came the Submarine. Again our speed shone through, with the in-form (and in-shape) Cani wreaking havoc. His initial long-range effort was denied by López, but the rebound fell to Gio, and our #9 did just enough to knot things up on an otherwise quiet evening. Tomás Pina tested López from distance after replacing Manu, and Madrid was on the front foot for the final ten minutes, but the scoreline held.
Which Mexican is the star? Gio got his goal, but Aquino was my man of the match. He was the most fouled player (provoking multiple Madrid yellow cards), a constant attacking threat on the right flank, and available to tidy up defensively. As evidence, most of Madrid’s attacks emanated from the other wing. After running nonstop for 90 minutes, Aquino needs an ice pack and two days’ off. His first half-season in yellow was less gaudy numbers-wise than expected, but the ex-Cruz Azul midfielder has found his form to start year two.
Veni, vidi, vici. What a day, what a match. On to Galicia next Sunday, where we return to our league to face Celta Vigo. Endavant Villarreal!