Back in January on our old site I analyzed the results of La Liga for the past few years and suggested Villarreal could guarantee a fourth-place finish with 65 points. Well, we've made hard going of that, which is why Juan Carlos Garrido called this match against lowly Real Zaragoza the most important match of the year. Would we play like the side that has made it to the Europa League semifinals, or the team that has picked up only 15 points in 12 La Liga matches since the break?
These Monday matches are difficult for those of us with busy schedules, so tonight's recap will have more of a blow-by-blow style than usual. Feel free to make up for it with comments of your own.
Villarreal lineup: Diego López, Mario, Musacchio, Marchena, Catalá, Cani, Bruno, Borja Valero, Santi Cazorla, Rossi and Nilmar.
Real Zaragoza lineup: Doblas; Diogo, Lanzaro, Jarosik, Da Silva, Obradovic; Ponzio, Gabi, Boutahar, Bertolo; Uche
First fifteen minutes: we give up possession from our own free kick and Obradovic runs forward but slams the ball way over the net. Slow start for us, but Rossi and Santi soon active down the left. Quick yellow for Obradovic. Already two nice crossfield passes from Borja to Nilmar...Santi now finds Rossi with a through ball but the keeper makes the save and the ball is headed wide by a defender. But Zaragoza break quickly dwon the left, shot is wide again. Then Doblas just comes out of the area in time to get his foot on a Rossi chance, Santi's chip is just wide of the post with the keeper scrambling back to his goal. It was a nice through ball from Cani to start that.
Next 20 minutes or so: Uche latches onto a through ball and beats Marchena--and hits it straight at Diego Lopez. Villarreal is having problems clearing the ball, and the energy has died down a bit. Rossi puts a great corner right at Musacchio's feet, and he puts it well wide when all he needed to do was toepoke it! Then Uche has another lash from the top of the box. End to end stuff, and Cani gets knocked down at the top of the box, loses his shoe, gets a yellow for dissent, then puts a nice through ball through to Nilmar but his angle is tight and the keeper saves again. We are looking very sprightly and controlling play, but need a goal.
Last 10 minutes: Santi, Cani, and Rossi nearly combined for a goal, but Doblas saved Rossi's first-time left-foot lash again. El Madrigal is restive, and the referee is having a tough day of it. It's fine to let chippy stuff go and allow the game to flow, but Zaragoza is fouling to break up Zargoza attacks constantly, and not all of the fouls are being called. Santi in particular is being beaten up out there, and nothing is happening. But Villarreal is becoming upset with the referee, and they need to concentrate on the game and the opponent. Garrido isn't happy and neither are the fans, waving white handkerchiefs as the first half ends.
HT 0-0 Villarreal--Real Zaragoza
First 10 minutes: Villarreal got off to a slow start, but then Cani made a nice run into the box, Diogo making a nice slide tackle to clear the ball away. Villarreal had a dangerous opportunity but made nothing of it, then Uche capped off a quick break by producing a fine save form Lopez, Marchena at least forcing him wide enough so that the keeper could keep down the angle.
Zaragoza should have scored moments later when someone who was offside (not called) couldn't bring the ball down in our area, and eventually Villarreal got it away. Bertolo came off and Ander Herrera came in for Zaragoza.
Next 15 minutes: Marchena tracked back, wiped out the attacking ball as well as López, but Diego was OK after treatment. Villarreal looking lifeless and Catala was maybe lucky not to get called for a handball from a hard cross into the box--couldn't tell from the camera angle. Then the Villarreal defense stood around and Marchena had to block off Ander's leg as well as the ball. Zaragoza looking much the better of the two sides and the crowd is sensing it. As does Garrido, getting subs ready. Fortunately Zaragoza doesn't offer much when they go forward--if they had more quality up front Villarreal would be there for the taking.
Then on 70 minutes Villarreal pounce (so to speak). It starts with a shot from Catalá, rather like the one he took against Twente. Doblas stops it but it rolls to Rossi, who has a tight angle and wants to maneuver to pass to Santi, I think. However, the Zaragoza defender slides in clumsily on Rossi and takes him down. It's an obvious penalty, and Rossi converts it from the spot with even more panache than usual. Zaragoza complains about the runup and so forth, the referee takes no notice. So now Garrido makes his substitutions: Cani and Nilmar off, Wakaso and Ruben on. Zaragoza make another substitution.
Last 20 minutes: Real Zaragoza kick the ball around a bit, play it to Uche who is behind the Villarreal back line but also facing in the wrong direction and his ball is cut out. Wakaso excites the fans with a run down the left. With ten minutes left Mario clears the ball off Lafita, the linesman doesn't see it, and from the throw in a Zaragoza shot is just wide. Then Musacchio knocks Lafita down on the left, but the ref waves play on and from the resulting chaos another shot is lashed high and wide. I guess it all evened up.
Uche is through again and knocked down in the penalty area, but he's offside. Still though, Villarreal can't control the ball at all, and Zaragoza have another dangerous free kick. López is there to catch it, though! Ooh, nearly 2-0 as Wakaso passes the ball to Santi and his shot is just stopped by Doblas at his near post. Four minutes plus stoppage time to go. Joan Oriol came on for Rossi at some point here--I have no idea where he is playing, but it's all hands on deck in the defensive end anyhow.
Zaragoza continue to try to come forward, hoofing long balls into the box. There is contact between Marchena and Uche, and....the referee books Uche for diving and sends him off!! A penalty would have been very soft, but to call Uche for a dive was a mite unbelievable. Anyhow, López sends the ball to the center of the pitch and that's it.
FT Villarreal 1-0 Real Zaragoza
OK, it's three points so we can't complain about that, but where has our scoring touch gone in La Liga? Zaragoza outshot Villarreal 10-3 in the second half, 17-10 for the game. Possession was nearly 65-35 to Villarreal in the first half, but about 60-40 to Zaragoza in the second half. As for the substitutions, Ruben hardly touched the ball, though Wakaso did get involved and set up our only real chance to wrap the game up.
Villarreal looked nervous tonight, and once Zaragoza brought Ander on they looked the better side. I just don't think Cani, Santi, and Borja all play together well in midfield, at least not with Borja in the middle. Santi had a quiet game after the first 30 minutes or so, partly due to him being fouled a lot, and Borja didn't shine the way he normally does. Cani provided better linkup with Rossi and Nilmar than the other two today. But both Rossi and Nilmar were unusually quiet in the second half.
The best performances for me came from López, Musacchio, and Marchena. Lopez made some key stops and did everything right back there; Musacchio--well, his miss from the corner kick was a howler, but he was positionally astute and made some key tackles. Marchena might be an odd choice, given he could've been called for a soft penalty at the end, but if ever you wanted to see someone get by on craft and guile, watch this guy. He was beaten for speed by Uche, yes, but he still forced him wide, cutting down the angle so Lopez had an easier save to make. And he had a key block of an Ander shot in the box, too, and generally controlled things in the back four.
Fortunately no midweek game after this, but Sevilla on Sunday will be a stern test. If we play like we did in the first half we may find some satisfaction, if we play like we did in the second I sincerely doubt it.
Bona nit, groguets! Endavant!