There are meaningless games, and then there are really meaningless games. Like this one. Most eyes in Spain, even among Submarine supporters, were focused elsewhere--on the continuing protests in Madrid and other cities in advance of the Spanish election, for example, or on the games with clearly significant relegation implications. For the record, Osasuna defeated Villarreal 1-0. That might have been about right on the evening, or perhaps Villarreal deserved to take away a point, but either way it didn't really matter.
Coach Garrido had already allowed Nilmar to start his vacation early, and then Mateo Musacchio came down with a fever. Carlos Tomás, whose main qualification seemed to be that he hadn't played in the B game the day before, was hurriedly drafted in as his replacement, since Marchena was out. And with Cani missing as well, Villarreal had two players who had seen B team action the day before on the bench--Wakaso and Natxo Insa.
As if that wasn't enough of a shock, even our goalkeeper looked different. Diego López was hardly recognizable without his beard--shaved it off for his wedding, maybe?
The game itself fell into about three parts. In the overture, which occupied the first 5 to 10 minutes or so of the first half, Villarreal controlled the ball and passed it around nicely but to no real effect. After that, Osasuna began squeezing the Villarreal midfield, and perhaps it's not surprising that a back four of Capdevila, Catála, Tomás, and Mario didn't always seem to link up with each other or with the more attack-minded players. For long periods of the half Villarreal couldn't even get the ball past the center line. Marcos Senna was caught in possession way too much and gave the ball away, and Borja Valero's passes, usually accurate, weren't.
Osasuna won corner after corner, but all were dealt with more-of-less comfortably, including the Pandiani shot which deflected off Catala's outstretched arm and away to safety. A definite penalty award missed. Still, it seemed that Osasuna would eventually get a goal, and they did. Shortly before halftime Alvaro Cejudo chested down a high ball in midfield, turned and lashed a splendid shot that beat Diego López, who was screened on the play.
HT Osasuna 1-0 Villarreal
The first ten minutes of the second half continued this pattern, with Villarreal not doing much, but then Garrido began to make some personnel changes. Matilla and Wakaso came on, Senna and Santi came off, and immediately Villarreal looked better. Wakaso is incapable of being on the pitch longer than about thirty seconds before you notice him, for better or worse, and the Osasuna midfield evidently decided that retreat was the best policy where he was concerned--especially after he caught Nekounam with a mistimed tackle.
Now Villarreal were controlling possession, and came close to scoring a couple of times. Rossi missed a great chance and Capdevila slid the ball wide of an open goal. And there were a few other promising buildups that were just too slow or where the last pass just missed its target.
As far as I could tell, Villarreal played a 3-5-2 for much of this half, with Bruno forming a back three with Catalá and Tomás, Capdevila and Mario on the wings, Borja, Matilla and Wakaso in central midfield. We created a few mildly threatening moments but frankly Ruben and Rossi both looked as if it had been a long season full of bumps and bruises--as it had.
The match petered out and at the end the grateful Osasuna fans--some of them, anyway--came on to the pitch and celebrated another year in the Primera to come.
The statistics told the story, only four shots for Villarreal. Too much slow buildup and too many imprecise passes to result in many shots. Osasuna committed 20 fouls to Villarreal's 10, too.
FT Osasuna 1-0 Villarreal
There's really not much I could draw from this game. By the end we had López, Capdevila, Bruno and Rossi on the pitch with seven players who had been in the B team this year or last, and frankly if this year's B team weren't in danger of relegation and Pérez and Falqué injured we might've seen them today as well.
The table doesn't lie. Barcelona and Real Madrid were/are by far the best teams in the league, with their dominance of revenues (which translates into players), media attention, and referees. Valencia were third, a ways behind, and Villarreal were a bit better than Sevilla, Athletic, and Atletico, all teams that had their ups and downs through the year.
On the face of it, the top two teams will remain the top two teams next year, but third place is going to be up for grabs. Villarreal have to be pleased that this year turned out the way it did, especially given the injuries to Angel and Gonzalo and the failure of Jefferson Montero to force his way into an important role.
At the same time, our inability to win points against the top three teams, as well as our failure to score goals in the last month or two in the league, indicate how much work needs to be done if we are to make a push for third place.
Now the silly season starts, when rumors either die or are translated into offers, and we find out what can or can't be done given the fiscal realities of life in an imbalanced league. We at Villarreal USA are looking forward to it. Endavant Villarreal!!