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Villarreal pick up a vital three points over an unimpressive Mallorca

A goal today for our smiling Brazilian--first in La Liga this calendar year, would you believe? (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
A goal today for our smiling Brazilian--first in La Liga this calendar year, would you believe? (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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     Whew.  It wasn't always easy, but the Yellow Submarine has finally posted a win in La Liga, defeating an uninspired Mallorca squad today 2-0 at El Madrigal with goals from Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar.

     Coach Garrido abandoned the Marchena-in-midfield experiment, and gave Nilmar a start hoping he could pick up a goal and gain some confidence.  He nearly scored in the first minute, but put the ball too far in front of himself with only keeper Aouate to beat.  Rossi was next to test the keeper, bringing a fine save in the second minute.  And Villarreal, for the first time in a long time, broke on top early.

     Catalá broke down the left and slipped a pass to Rossi, Aouate came to meet the danger but only got as far as no-man's land, with the Bambino slipping the ball between his legs and into the net.  1-0 to the yellow team, and things were looking good.

    Mallorca had elected to play with a lone striker (Victor) and played a very high line in defense.  This meant that play was squeezed into midfield with Borja, Cani, and de Guzman basically trying to play through balls to the front two, while when Mallorca had the ball, they found it hard to create any danger.

    Mallorca's best chances came when the Submarine players lost concentration and turned the ball over, leading to a break.  Once it was Bruno guilty of this, once Borja--but frankly with de Guzman wearing yellow, Mallorca had no one on the pitch capable of taking advantage of our mistakes.

     Referee González González (I had to work that in somewhere) allowed some fairly physical play (for La Liga) but did show yellow cards to Mallorca's Tissone and Pina late on for some continued fouling.  It looked like barring a complete defensive breakdown, or a stroke of luck, Mallorca could play all day and not score.  Nonetheless, as the teams broke for halftime Villarreal fans had to be hoping for a second goal to kill off the tie.

HT Villarreal 1-0 Mallorca

    Well, Villarreal, just like our friend Juan Arango reminds us about Uruguay, doesn't do easy.  We got our second goal, all right, in the tenth minute of the second half.  Borja Valero, who had been OK in the first half but nothing special, put through one of his trademark perfect through balls to Nilmar, who rounded the keeper and carefully slid the ball home as defender Ramis tried to get back and clear it.  Villarreal continued to try and exploit Mallorca's high defensive line, but without success, and it seemed we were willing to sit back as if the game had already been won.

    Mallorca coach Laudrup, who has been feuding with the team's majority owner and is likely to move on before long, made two substitutions--first, Alfaro for Tisone, and then, with 16 minutes left, Chori Castro came on for Aki, who had been useless to that point.  Immediately the Mallorca attack had width, some pace, and an element of danger.  No wonder we would like to acquire Chori!

    Mallorca were leaving themselves open at the back, and Rossi, on another day, could've scored a couple more, while at times it was evident that DeGuzman was still learning how to play with Rossi and Nilmar.   The two-goal lead never looked totally safe, and with only a couple of minutes left Diego López nearly made it more interesting. 

   He came well out from his box to punch a ball he could not possibly get to, but Cristian Zapata cleared the resulting header off the line with the keeper nowhere.  We were all at sixes and sevens back there, but in the end we survived and ran out more-or-less comfortable 2-0 winners.

FT Villarreal 2-0 Mallorca

    So, a vital three points.  There were times today when we "looked like the old Villarreal'.  There were also times when lapses in concentration, sloppy defending, or simply miscommunication let us down.  A better team than Mallorca would have at least scored one goal to make it interesting.

   I was encouraged that (for the first 60 minutes especially) we played with some pace and width.  Catala supported well, Mario was a lot quicker than against Granada.  Borja ended up having a pretty good game, Cani not as much (Mallorca fouled him a lot whenever he looked dangerous).  Rossi and Nilmar were dangerous, but at times Nilmar's lack of confidence showed.  Still, he scored his forst league goal since December 2010 (also against Mallorca) so maybe that will get him going.

   Rossi and Zapata were my men of the match--Rossi because he was a tireless worker and created chances for himself and others (he'll doubtless feel he should have scored more than the one goal today but he made the keeper work a lot), Zapata because he cleared that ball off the line and also cut out the few great crosses that came into the middle.  Well, there was one he missed, but the attacker was marginally offside, and the linesman caught it.

    DeGuzman for me had an OK match.  He put some shots on target, he worked much more in the midfield today than against Bayern.  What was evident was that he is still getting used to playing with Rossi, Nilmar, and Ruben.  He didn't yet make those "I know you will be there" passes, but it will come.

    Garrido put out an XI most of us wanted to see.  I can't really fault his subs that much--giving Senna some minutes made sense, and I suppose Camuñas as well--but I would have liked to see Wakaso come on late.  We needed a burst of energy and he would have given that to us.

   Overall, a nervy last 10-15 minutes, yes, but at least we created enough chances on the day to score more.

   As for Mallorca, I really wish the hatchet could be buried between these two teams.  I'd like to like them (at least a bit).  Captain ivan Ramis worked really hard in defense, I was impressed by Chori Castro and to some degree by Pina in midfield.  But once we got the early goal heads dropped, and it took the subs to get them going again.

  Their coach Laudrup has bemoaned their failure to sign a striker (they did sign a Belgian, but 12 minutes too late, so he can't join until January).  After four games they have one goal (de Guzmán is still their leading scorer) and I can't see it improving much.  I expect Ferrer to sack Laudrup soon and the team to be relegated in the absence of any major changes of personnel come January.

    I'm sure we'll have much more of a test in San Mamés on Saturday.  Endavant Villarreal!!