Villarreal B has done well in its first 5 matches in Segunda A, with 1 win, 2 draws, and 2 losses for 5 points, good for 16th position (only 1 point above the drop zone, however). They have the same point total as the A team does through 5 league matches (2 draws, 3 losses) plus 2 Europa League group stage games (1 win, 1 loss). If you could have placed that bet before the season...
The B team has fought hard in every match, stealing points late against Levante and Albacete. What looked like a late equalizer in Huelva did not hold up, but the team's fighting spirit is not in question. Now let's see if manager Juan Carlos Garrido and company can take the next step and earn points away from the Ciudad Deportiva.
This round's opponent Cartagena will be a tough nut to crack, however. Currently leading the table with 11 points through 5 rounds (3 wins and 2 draws), FC Cartagena has taken full points in its first 2 home matches. Interestingly, the club, founded in 1995, earned promotion to Segunda A only this season (along with Villarreal B, Cadiz, and Real Union de Irun). Former Villarreal players Pascal Cygan and Victor now ply their trade for Cartagena, along with fellow Primera mainstays Chus Herrero (Zaragoza), Javier Casas and Unai Exposito (Athletic Bilbao), Oscar Sielva (Espanyol), and Enrique de Lucas (Murcia), among others. A very experienced team with one goal in mind: promotion.
Here is the squad for tomorrow’s match. My projected starting XI in red:
Goalkeepers: Juan Carlos and Vicente Flor.
Defenders: Carlos Tomás, Joan Oriol, Kiko, Edu, Costa, Mario, and Catalá.
Midfielders: Jefferson Montero, Natxo Insa, Gerard Bordas, Matilla, and Robert Flores.
Forwards: Marco Ruben, Joan Tomás, Cubillas, and Fofo (last two from C team).
One injury note: Mateo Musacchio will be out 2-3 weeks with a partial ligament tear in his left ankle. My Spanish medical terminology is not so robust, but if you're interested, here is some more information. Cristobal also misses out due to the red card that he received at the end of last week's Albacete match.
On the flip side, Gerard Bordas is back to full fitness and should start in place of Cristobal, while veteran defender Edu gets his chance to return to the lineup. Let's see if Garrido gives him any minutes; I am skeptical that he is anything more than cover. Catala should deputize for Musacchio, partnering Kiko in central defense.
Spaniards Marcos Gullon and C team goalkeeper Diego Marino, along with Paraguayan Hernan Perez, are still at the U-20 World Cup in Egypt, as both sides have qualified for the quarterfinals (opponents still to be determined). This is the early game in Segunda (10 am Eastern Time on Saturday), so streams should be available. I'm hoping for a good performance in what may be the toughest game of the season. Montero and Joan Tomas, show your stuff. Endavant!
Halftime, 0-0: I missed the first half, but the Canal+ commentators say that Villarreal B made attacking changes at the half- Joan Tomas and Gerard Bordas in, Robert Flores and Natxo Insa out- and that Cartagena has not seen much of the ball. Sounds like a wonderful display from our team.
67', 0-0: Not too much to report. Montero toys with a defender along the right sideline. Our lack of experience is starting to show a bit, but I think we can hold out by pushing forward.
69', 0-0: Marco Ruben hits the bar! He jumps between the defender and goalkeeper on a 50-50 ball and nearly earns us the 3 points. Just keep fighting...
79', 0-0: Game has really opened up. Great 1v1 save on de Lucas by Juan Carlos, then extended possession around the Cartagena area by our team. There's still a goal in this match, I do believe. And Marco Ruben has to be at the top of the list to score it.
84', 0-0: Our players are tiring, but I am very impressed with our defense. Cartagena has put us under pressure, but the team is relatively calm. Joan Oriol has been great in handling the dangerous Panamanian Quintero.
90', 0-0: 3 minutes of stoppage time. Can we hold out for an away point? Fofo has come on for Jefferson Montero.
Fulltime, 0-0: Villarreal B earns its first away point in Segunda A. The team's performance might have earned the full 3 points against a lesser side than leaders Cartagena. Very positive sign for the future.
I was particularly impressed by Joan Oriol, Kiko, and Catala in defense. The Cartagena strikers were not given inside body position, so a number of teasing crosses from wingers Quintero and de Lucas went straight into Juan Carlos' hands. Indiscipline on any one of those could have cost us the game. Back to the Ciudad Deportiva to face Rayo Vallecano next Saturday. See you then.