Yesterday was the first time Villarreal took the field after the sale of Santi Cazorla. To say Villarreal fans were curious, nervous, apprehensive might have been an overstatement, but the fanbase certainly felt calmer after a comprehensive 3-1 victory in the XII Trofeo de Ceramica.
Lazio left wantaway striker Zárate at home, but even so had a strong lineup with Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse up front (though disappointingly Cisse had a fairly normal hairstyle, unusual for him) and midfielders like Italian international Ledesma and the Brazilian Matuzalem. But, from the opening whistle Villarreal took the game to Lazio, and the final 3-1 scoreline was if anything less than Villarreal deserved.
GOL di PEPITO ROSSI! Villareal vs Lazio 3-1 HIGHLIGHTS Amichevole 31/07/2011 (via MrPazzissimo)
"The post-Cazorla submarine shone with the same force", wrote Jose Luis Lizarraga in EPM. Indeed it did; the opening 20 minutes were as dominating as any Villarreal performance last season. Lazio was mostly penned in their own end while the Submarine poked and prodded at their defense. Cani's through ball to Rossi and his clinical finish on 12 minutes gave Villarreal the lead, and eight minutes later Cani himself scored; goalkeeper Marchetti saved his first shot, but the rebound came straight back to Cani, who headed the ball in while prone on the ground.
Villarreal should have gone in with a 2-0 lead at least, but on the stroke of halftime a defensive lapse allowed Cisse to poach a goal, which muted the halftime joy somewhat, but the second half was mostly Villarreal again. Nilmar and Rossi both had chances saved, then the referee refused to award a clear penalty when Nilmar was scythed down by Marchetti. No matter, Wakaso Mubarak scored the goal of his life, a 30-yard screamer across a disbelieving Marchetti and Villarreal ran out worthy 3-1 winners.
Cristian Zapata impressed in defense, expertly reading and then heading away virtually anything aimed in the direction of the hopeful Cisse, as well as defending well on corner kicks. He and Musacchio look to be an effective pairing, though the Argentine's penchant for committing errors of judgment every now and then continued--his decision to push up rather than go with Cisse led to the Lazio goal.
Joan Oriol did what he was told to do at left back--he didn't go forward much, but neither was he a weak link in the back line. Cani and Borja were excellent on the wings, and Marcos Senna impressed as well. Rossi was of course outstanding, Ruben could've had a goal or two with a bit more luck. Nilmar earned the penalty that wasn't given and had numerous instances of brilliance, and his speed forced the Lazio defense into numerous fouls. Every time he went down Villarreal supporters cringed, but he seemed to be OK.
Gonzalo returned to the pitch for the first time since his injury and got a warm welcome. I don't know about César though--he looks to be something of a comedian on the Villarreal TV clips I've seen, but he needs to leave the comedy in the locker room. He managed to get himself into difficulties with simple clearances a couple of times, and passed the ball to Cissé just before the end of the game! (the Frenchman, surprised, chipped the ball back to him).
So, we now turn our attention to the trip to northern England at the end of the week, as well as the transfer market. Coach Garrido has said the replacement for Santi may arrive this week; at the moment the name getting traction is Mikel Arteta, though whether I can believe a report in the Sunday People I am not sure! Arteta could be great, but he's also 29 and has suffered numerous injuries the past couple of years, in fact he's on the shelf now. Everton aren't wanting to sell him, but they need cash and Villarreal has some to spend.
As for the left back situation, Jose Enriqué is the name coming up now. He's unhappy at Newcastle, has blasted the team on twitter, and has only a year remaining on his contract. Of course, Villarreal knows him well; he played here in the 2006-07 season.
With cash in hand, Villarreal might be able to broker deals for both, but it's hard to compete with EPL sides in the transfer market. But if Everton were willing to part with Arteta for say €9-10m, and Newcastle Enrique for €4m or so, we'd be delighted I'm sure.
Meanwhile, the club has confirmed what we reported last week--Hernán Pérez will indeed be the fourth option up front for the first team. And, the club HAS made another signing for the B team: it's another Ecuadorian, Fernando "Chiqui" Guerrero, who has been transferred here by his Ecuadorian club for six months to try and impress. He's a young midfielder, came up in the Real Madrid system, played on the Ecuador U-20 team and has won two caps with the senior squad now. He spent part of 2009-10 on loan to Burnley, but returned to Ecuador after Owen Coyle's departure. We wish him well at Vila-real!