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Gonzalo Rodríguez, Sporting's Savior?

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If the lovable Manolo Preciado's men from Gijón avoid the drop, they may owe it to a certain Argentine central defender in Vila-real. We haven't seen much of bad Gonzalo this year, coming off a season of turmoil under Valverde and the influence of some bad seeds, but he has been at his worst against the rojiblancos from Asturias.

But let's not scapegoat a phantom penalty awarded in the 92nd minute on behalf of 9 men. Or maybe we should. Regardless, Villarreal CF exhibited a serious hangover from its midweek Europa League triumph in Leverkusen, and it took a horrible error by Sporting keeper Cuéllar to even get us on the scoresheet.

Highlights and a quick breakdown of Sunday's starting XI (by position) below the fold:

Strikers: Rossi took advantage of Cuéllar's gift and tracked back effectively, but he showed little going forward on the day. The Italian also got Sastre sent off, but he was inexplicably offside in acres of space moments before the equalizer. His partner Nilmar was a bit better, but he was taken off early after no tangible results.

Midfielders: Cani was invisible, and so was Bruno, for that matter. But the latter may be due to Sporting's minimal initiative going forward (until they went down a man or two). Cazorla huffed and puffed, but he is clearly out of form and should have been replaced on the hour. Borja was the best of the lot, but that's not saying much.

Defenders: Limited attacking width from Capdevila and Mario, but that's the norm these days. Musacchio was pretty solid, though Sporting offered little through the air. Gonzalo was fine until the "penalty", but that's faint praise.

Keeper: Not much to do for Diego López, save picking the ball out of his net after Castro's penalti a lo Panenka (chipping it down the middle, in Spanish terms). López was pretty assertive on crosses and got down quickly to save a couple of daisy cutters. A ho-hum performance, by his lofty standards.

A disappointing effort, and it's not the first time that we have failed to drive home a numerical advantage. But keep in mind that we are 9 points clear of our closest challengers for 4th place (8+tiebreaker over Espanyol, 9 over Athletic).

Now comes the biggest week of the season to date. Results at home to Leverkusen and in Bilbao would send the squad scattering for the international break in good spirits. But a loss to the Basques and elimination from the Europa League would be a varapalo, as the Spaniards say. Our week of reckoning awaits.