The Yellow Submarine welcomed back one of its favorite sons, Javi Venta, to El Madrigal for the first time since his contract was allowed to expire over the summer. Of course, they did so with some ugly football. It started early. During the first ten minutes, Villarreal started sloppily, generally keeping possession but not creating any real chances.
On 13 minutes, Levante had by far the best chance of the young match when a cross into the box found one attacker beat Gonzalo and the other completely unmarked. Admittedly, Marchena had taken a nice elbow to the head less than a minute before, but the back line was showing holes early, which is not an uncommon sight around Vila-real as of late. A minute later, Capdevila was again beat down the left side, and it took a decisive move from Diego López to hold off the attack.
Villarreal had to be happy to have the combination of Rossi and Nilmar back up front, generally one of the more dangerous pairings in La Liga. The time apart for Nilmar showed, though, as he did not link up well early with Rossi or the team. Over the first quarter of the match, neither had a role as Levante were able to shut down the passes from the midfield and then react on the counter.
Villarreal finally got an opportunity on 23 minutes, with some fancy footwork by Cazorla followed up by a Rossi shot from outside the box. Rossi’s positioning, though, was an example of the problems Villarreal was having in getting the ball into dangerous positions. Levante made clear by crowding the keeper’s area that they would be perfectly happy to give up shots from outside the box all day if they could continue to shut down the Yellow team closer in to goal.
While Levante put up a formidable defensive front, on the other end, the best defense Villarreal had was the support of the linesman and his flag. Great opportunities for Levante were called back for offsides, and some of those calls were very, very close.
In the 28th minute, Nilmar was arguably denied a penalty after being bumped down on a charge into the box, but the referee was not buying it. I missed the next few minutes with the obligation to change my son’s diaper - just as Villarreal could not afford to continue to put forth the stuff they were displaying on the field lest they face a disaster, I could not afford to let his diaper keep on in its then-current state, or I too would be facing disaster. Luckily, since Villarreal’s play resembled what I found in the diaper, I missed very little.
I walked back in to find Levante with more pressure in the 38th minute, with a dangerous cross from the left, followed by a dangerous cross from the right. Luckily the Levante striker Stuani was too far away, and his attempt to score with his hand was met with a yellow card.
The 40th minute found the most dangerous chance for Villarreal so far, as a charge into the box and a cross from Valero slid slowly across an open face of goal, only to be eventually cleared by Javi Venta. A minute later, it was another charge led by Borja Valero, who fed a streaking Nilmar into the box. Nilmar then crossed back towards the middle where Rossi was waiting to fire in a left-footed volley. His shot was saved, but Villarreal had to feel a little better about what they had produced over the last couple of minutes.
Heading in to the locker room for halftime, it seemed very clear that Garrido was going to simply tear into the club. There had been a little improvement from Villarreal towards the end, but for the most part, it was 45 minutes of slow-wittedness and even slower-footedness on the pitch from the boys in Yellow. But with the loss of Montero and Altidore, and with Ruben left off injured, Garrido had to be wondering where he was going to get an offensive spark if it wasn’t from the players on the pitch. The one bit of hope he must have had was the tiny showing of promise that occurred in the last five minutes of the first half. It was clear that the team came in overconfident, expecting the relegation-tempted Levante to give up the ghost quite easily. That had not happened, to say the least.
The second half did not exactly start off smoothly. A perfectly placed pass from Levante on the counter found their striker Stuani with a one-on-one with Diego López. It was López’s smart defending that prevented the chip from going over his head. A minute later, though, López was not so lucky. Levante split a sleeping, creaking defensive back line with a pass from the other side of midfield. López charged outside of the box and did everything he could to pick up a red card, but it was not enough. The midfielder Valdo sidestepped López and drilled the back of the net. Just like that, the home side found itself down 0-1 and without a bit of momentum.
And if you thought that might wake the defense up, you would be wrong. Within another minute, Levante again found itself behind the defense, but the weak cross strolled across the face of goal.
The action was picking up, though, as on 50 minutes Rossi had a decent shot from ten yards out deflected for a corner. Rossi was beginning to show a little bit of life, but he needed a lot of help from the rest of the squad supporting him, which he was not receiving.
The counter continued to trouble Villarreal as the match progressed. On 53 minutes, the yellow defense pressed too high in support of a Villarreal corner, especially considering how poorly they handled the corner, and a pass from the back found a streaking Javi Venta (yes, not a typo) break free. It was Mario covering who managed to bundle Venta off the ball with a shoulder, and the danger was averted.
As the ball returned down the pitch, Cazorla was mauled by the giant Ballesteros at the top of the box, giving Villarreal a terrific free kick opportunity. But, as with the rest of the match, Rossi’s shot ticked high. It was definitely beginning to feel like Villarreal were going to drop some points today, and it was merely a question of whether it was going to be two or three. On the sideline, Garrido looked like he was taking his mafia role seriously, wondering who he should knock off.
A moment of comic relief came in the 57th minute, after Javi Venta dragged Capdevila back by the arm. After receiving the yellow, Javi Venta shrugged his shoulders, giving the "what did I do?" look that he had taught Cani so well over the years.
Villarreal was not immune from adding to the yellow count, and in the 59th minute, Marchena brutally chopped down a Levante player to earn the tarjeta amarilla. Of course, a minute later Marchena took Xisco down in the box with a gentle touch, and the referee witheld the penalty. It probably should have been a penalty, but everyone in the stadium felt less and less sorry for Xisco as he tried to stretch a performance worthy of daytime soaps into an Oscar.
Villarreal knew things were not going well, and in the 64th minute traded Marchena out for Cicinho, pushing Mario into the middle and looking for a little more offense from the right back position. The minutes were slipping by much too quickly for comfort, and thoughts were beginning to drift towards Nicki Bille and the hopes that he could be the answer for an unproductive front line.
In the 74th minute, as Villarreal expected Levante to slow things down, it was a rocket of a shot that López was only able to nudge wide that nearly put the match away for the visitors.
Garrido made his big change in the 76th minute, bringing on two substitutes. Nicki Bille came on for Capdevila, with his opportunity for glory in front of him. Matilla, long-suffering on the bench, came in for Cani, who showed moments of promise but had not done anything productive on the day. The lineup at that point became a bit disjointed, with Bruno sliding back to the left side of the defense, Mario in at central defense, and the club going with a 4-3-3, something not often seen from the yellow side as of late. In reality, Garrido didn’t have many other options than just to throw everything he could at the pitch and hope that something caught the spark.
Epitomizing the problems of the match was our captain Gonzalo getting into a fight with Juanfran to close the match down. And to make that worse, the girl-fight took place right after the monster Ballesteros tried to rip the ligaments in Nilmar’s knee by undercutting him from behind in the box. Of course, Nilmar was called for the foul.
FT: Villarreal 0-1 Levante
Five minutes of stoppage time were not enough for Villarreal, as the 0-1 scoreline held. Three points floated out of the top of the El Madrigal fishbowl, and the Yellow Submarine went belly-up.
The worst part about the feelings from a Villarreal perspective as the match wound down was thinking about the loss of everything they had gained the previous week. Valencia’s draw, beating Espanyol, and Real Madrid’s shock loss to Osasuna all suddenly meant nothing, as Villarreal gave it all back with a horrible perfomance at El Madrigal.
Villarreal was simply terrible on the day. There was nothing creative from the club, no spark, no optimism whatsoever. The club looked like Atlético Madrid on a bad day, but perhaps less inventive.