Giuseppe Rossi came down sick after arriving in A Coruña, and shortly before the game, it was determined he couldn't play. Cristóbal was added to the squad in his stead, and Submarine supporters, remembering the team's last Rossi-less game (loss to Getafe), feared the worst, especially facing a Deportivo team that is (in)famous for defending en masse.
Not a great crowd at the Riazor, a cold gray day. For the first time all year, Bruno was on the bench, so the Submarine lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Nilmar alone up top, Santi, Cani and Borja Valero as attacking midfielders, and Marchena and Matilla as the pivotes. Capdevila, Gonzalo, Musacchio and Mario played in front of Diego López. Not to be outdone, Depor went with their version of an attacking lineup, four defenders at the back rather than five, but of course only one striker, the seldom-used Riki, in a 4-3-2-1.
In the 5th minute, Villarreal had a chance to score: Mario made a nice run down the right and pulled the ball back to Matilla at the top of the box--but he fluffed his shot and Aranzubia was hardly troubled, catching the soft shot easily. Three minutes later, Depor threatened from our old bugaboo, the free kick, but Colotto couldn't connect with an excellently placed ball in the danger area between López and the defense. A sign of things to come. For much of the first 30 minutes, the play was uninspiring, with possession largely shared between the two teams and little created in attack. Villarreal looked like a squad that was still making the transition from training together to playing together; Matilla in particular didn't seem confident of where he should be, and there was little linkup between the midfield and Nilmar. As for Depor, lone striker Riki wasn't seeing much of the ball either, though Musacchio had to make a nice sliding clearance after Gonzalo was beaten.
In the 31st minute, Depor's Adrián decided to take the direct approach, breaking past Gonzalo and bringing a fine one-on-one save from López, with Juan Rodríguez putting the rebound into the rows of Depor fans waving flags behind the goal. Villarreal to this point had looked moribund, and all of maddi's comments last week could easily have been applied to our performance this week as well. But, just like last week, the last few minutes before the half gave hope, with a dangerous spell of possession only being broken by one of Cani's theatrical falls on the edge of the box. (No, he didn't win a free kick, but he fooled us--we cleared the ball into touch to make sure he was OK.) Five minutes before the break, a great chance--Borja Valero placed a free kick in perfect position for Gonzalo, who smashed a fine header, low and across the keeper, that brought an outstanding save from Aranzubia. This was more like it, and when just before halftime Nilmar--barely offside--hit a shot against the post, it seemed as though perhaps the second half would bring better things. 0-0 at the half then. Just like last week. Have I said that before?
Even before the second half kicked off, it was pretty clear that one goal probably would be enough to win the game. Adrián had looked the most dangerous player for Depor; Riki primarily had showed why he had been on the bench since November, and they had created very little. Villarreal was struggling to bring Nilmar into the game, and it seemed (as against Levante) too many square passes were being played around the perimeter, when what was needed was some sort of quick diagonal pass to get behind the defense. And whenever Depor gave up the ball, they retreated instantly, so scoring from counterattacks wasn't on either. As for the referee, either he had a train to catch or he just didn't like the Riazor, because he ignored numerous fouls (some more blatant than others) and was clearly uninterested in penalizing physical play.
The first 10 minutes of the second half produced a lot of scrappy football, befitting the conditions, but little of consequence took place. Or to look at it another way, the momentum the Submarine had taken into the locker room stayed there. Anyhow, on 55 minutes, Garrido made a substitution, bringing on Bruno for Matilla. Perhaps Garrido was being careful with Bruno, given that he was banged up from the last match, and had intended to bring him on. Certainly, bringing him into the mix made sense because he is so good at passing the ball, but Matilla clearly was upset at being taken off. Not the best move for someone who has been a frequent inhabitant of Garrido's doghouse. Back on the pitch, the move almost paid dividends immediately, but a promising move ended with Nilmar being whistled for a handball and going in the referee's book.
Shortly afterward, Depor won a free kick down the left wing--it seemed innocuous enough--but I should have remembered that chance early on. Anyway, as they lined up to take it, the phone rang (my wife is having knee surgery next week, and it was a friend of hers calling to wish her well), and when I came back from giving her the phone, I discovered Depor had scored off the free kick and now led 1-0 (memo to self: either buy a second phone or teach Villarreal how to defend free kicks). From viewing the replay on the miracle of modern technology that is ESPN3, I can report that Antonio Tomás placed a nice high ball into the mix, Gonzalo seemed confused by it, turning around 180 degrees while his man Juan Rodríguez headed it down, and Albert Lopo flung himself at the ball and directed it, more or less, into the net with López stranded. He was clearly onside, but why Joan Capdevila was playing him onside is a question many people, including López and Musacchio, were asking in the immediate aftermath of the goal. So we found ourselves 1-0 down, just like...oh, never mind.
I'd like to say all sorts of interesting things happened after this, but they didn't. Yet again Villarreal had no--zilch, nada--shots on goal in the second half. Garrido did bring on Marco Ruben for Cani almost immediately after going behind, but there just wasn't any spark or intensity to be had from the yellow group. Borja seemed off all game, Cani did nothing, and Santi, after a good first half, faded away. Nilmar couldn't get any service, and any attempt to play the ball over the top to Marco Ruben resulted in an offside flag, whether deserved or not.
Frankly, the thing I remember best was Marchena--in the 68th minute, already on a yellow card, he took down Riki rather cynically and was lucky not to receive a second yellow. Promptly substituted (Marcos Senna came on for his first taste of action in a long while), Marchena ran harder than he'd run all game to the bench, receiving the boos and whistles of the Riazor crowd as he did so. If we'd been winning, I would've laughed really hard. But as we weren't, I simply watched as Riki put his shot over the bar and Rubén Pérez brought a good save from López. This was not going well, and nothing that Garrido could do would change that.
No real chances in the remaining minutes plus 3 of injury time, and frankly with Depor parking the bus and our lack of passion and incisive play, we could've played another hour without scoring.
Where do we go from here? Could whoever stole the yellow team that was flying high in La Liga please bring it back? If only it were that simple. We're going to see a lot more of this type of play-- relegation-threatened teams putting almost everyone behind the ball and daring us to break them down, relying on a quick break or a dead ball opportunity to score the one goal that can win the game. And teams also have watched enough film to know that we are weak at defending free kicks, and our central defense is slow (Musacchio today came to Gonzalo's rescue a couple of times, and Marchena's as well). With a win on Monday, Athletic will be only 4 points behind us in the race for the Champions league, and we now are behind Valencia for the first time all season. And of course, there's a Europa League match in Naples on Thursday to deal with. The Yellow Submarine needs to get patched up--and fast.
We were not expecting to play without Rossi, but even so, a second straight game of no shots on goal in the second half is simply unacceptable. For that matter, two goal-scoring opportunities in the entire match is nowhere near enough. After the Levante loss, Garrido seemed somewhat philosophical, saying the loss just proved how well we had played to that point, etc. This second straight loss to an inferior opponent really hurts, and I wouldn't expect him to be so philosophical this time around. He needs to light a fire under this team--and quickly.