Villarreal went to bed early on a September Sunday morning on top of La Liga - for the first time in its history! - after a resounding 0-3 victory in Pamplona against current colista Osasuna. El Sadar (the new name for the Reyno de Navarra) has been a troublesome ground for the Yellow Submarine even in halcyon days, but the home side's resistance lasted only half an hour this time around.
Jérémy Perbet started the scoring on 22 minutes with a precise nutmeg finish; Javier Aquino doubled the lead on the half-hour mark with his first goal in yellow. Jony Pereira and Rubén Cani were key contributors on both tallies. Substitute Ikechukwu Uche rounded out the evening with a tap-in from a lethal Villarreal counter led by fellow substitute Giovani dos Santos.
Five takeaways from Osasuna 0, Villarreal 3:
1. Rotations are the new normal. Only one change this week: Perbet for Gio. But the best strike pairing is still undetermined, Manu Trigueros and Tomás Pina are battling to play alongside Bruno Soriano, the injured Bojan Jokic and newly-arrived Gabriel Paulista will have a say in the back four, and Juan Carlos wants his job back between the sticks.
2. No more slow starts. Marcelino García Toral has this team ready to play. Osasuna pressed for a few minutes in front of its impassioned supporters, but the Yellow Submarine dominated most of the first half. Jony was a constant menace to the rojillo backline, and Aquino made the most of his opportunity without Gio. Cani supplied Perbet for an early chance, but the Frenchman scuffed his chance straight at former transfer target Andrés Fernández. Then Jony shot across a gaping goalmouth. La tercera fue la vencida.
Cani sprayed an excellent ball to Jony on the wing, who found Perbet in the middle of the box. The Frenchman cut in front of his defender to meet the cross, but it looked as if Andrés had cut off the angle. Not so fast - Perbet showed great patience to steady himself, then nutmeg the Osasuna keeper for the opening tally.
Minutes later, Bruno found Jony again in behind. Despite a heavy challenge, Jony stayed on his feet, and the ball fell kindly to Aquino. Andrés had been lured out by Jony's solo foray, so Aquino merely had to chip the ball over the keeper and into the net. In hindsight, game over.
3. Wingbacks provide the width. Yet again, excellent contributions from Jaume Costa and Mario Gaspar. Particularly Mario - take a look at the Positional Chart --> Player Positions. Dani Alves on the night - Mario spent the match nearly in the opposing half. This freed Cani and Aquino to wreak havoc in the middle of the park, and they did.
4. The Mexican connection has taken flight. Osasuna took the initiative when chasing the game in the second half, but Sergio Asenjo was seldom threatened. Gio and Uche entered up front after the hour mark, and the two substitutes combined with Aquino to kill off the match. Aquino tore through the rojillo defense for the umpteenth time, laid off the ball to Gio on the right, and Gio looked off a defender to feed Uche for a tap-in. Nice to see the celebration as well - morale is high in the squad.
5. Eyes on the prize. 9 points from 9. Joint leaders of La Liga. But the key is 3 points closer to salvation. Now a week off, save for a friendly away to Tercera side Burriana, and then preparation for Real Madrid.
Two weeks to reach 20,000 season ticket holders. Two weeks to promote the biggest Primera match at El Madrigal in a couple of years. Two weeks to get ready to shock the world.