We all predicted a difficult match for Villarreal on Sunday evening at El Madrigal against Granada. Two teams in form, with an opposing coach who knows our system (from Abel Resino's days at our neighbors Castellón).
Villarreal earned its 3-1 victory on the night, but the outcome was in doubt until late. We'll take the three points, enjoy a slight cushion above the relegation zone, and look ahead to next Sunday. Our away-day opponent: sworn enemies Mallorca, one point behind us in the table.
José Molina made four changes to the side that won in Seville: Bruno Soriano and Gonzalo Rodríguez were suspended, Mateo Musacchio was a last-minute scratch, and Joselu Moreno returned to the 'B' team. So the core of our side was in flux: both center backs, our rock in the doble pivote, and last week's center forward.
Granada's lineup was about as expected, with new signing Borja Gómez at center back and Ighalo up front. Dani Benítez and Carlos Martins (whose son is improving, thankfully) were the danger men in the midfield.
Granada troubled us immediately from set pieces, which is no surprise. Particularly with Carlos Marchena and Cristián Zapata as a new central pairing. But the Submarine was creating chances as well.
The breakthrough came from a through ball by the enigmatic Rubén Cani. Marco Ruben had a lot to do, with a Granada defender on his left shoulder and the keeper narrowing the angle, but we should not have doubted our Argentine striker. He is en racha, and so he proved with a strong finish across the keeper. The finishing touch we have been missing all season.
1-0 16' Ruben
Unexpectedly, the goal seemed to lift the visitors, as they continued to pressure from set pieces and around the edge of the box. Ighalo hit the post from a corner, and Martins let fly from distance, but Diego López kept his sheet clean.
At the other end, Nilmar nearly created a second, but Julio César made a fine low save. Granada picked up a few silly cards to end the half. We deserved our lead at the break, but you knew there were more goals in the match.
Half Time: 1-0
Villarreal was actually behind in possession, but it was hard to fault our midfield. One concern: allowing too much space around our penalty box. Borja Valero tested the Granada keeper early at his near post, but the visitors drew level in expected fashion.
After forcing multiple corners, Granada center back Íñigo López made good contact with a header. Marchena did not jump with his man, and Diego López had no chance. Bottom right corner, and the visitors were level.
1-1 49' Í. López
A chance to see what Molina's men were made of. Diakhate replaced the Granada goalscorer, I presume due to injury, and the visitors nearly took the lead on the hour mark. Mikel Rico almost pulled a Cani by chipping Diego López from midfield, but our keeper scrambled the ball around the post for a corner. So close to a goal of the year candidate, but the score remained level.
Time for Molina magic: Gonzalo Castellani replaced Nilmar, Javier Camuñas moved up front, and the ex-Osasuna man crafted the game-winner. From the edge of the box, Camuñas chipped the ball to a streaking Borja. With a defender on his left shoulder, Borja's first touch dropped the ball onto his right foot. The second was a howitzer into the roof of the net, leaving Julio César a mere spectator. A thunderous goal by a classy player.
2-1 63' Borja
This time Granada's energy level dropped, and the remainder of the match was a yellow monologue. Diakhate went into the book, we started to control possession, and gaps opened in the rojiblanco defense. And unlike in the first match, our player Ikechukwu Uche entered to little effect. But the circumstances of the third goal were odd.
The Submarine worked the ball across the field, reaching Castellani at the edge of the box. Granada was stretched, so Joan Oriol was in acres of space down the left. He played a cross looking for an attacker at the back post, but Julio César read the pass. Unfortunately for the Granada keeper, his punch went awry, ricocheting behind him and into the net. Two defenders were near the play, but the spin was too unpredictable. Game over.
3-1 73' Julio César (o.g.)
Almost immediately, our new signing Alejandro Martinuccio replaced Ruben, who earned plaudits from El Madrigal. Diakhate was sent off late for a flying challenge on Martinuccio, who was bursting into the visitors' box. Borja put the resulting free kick wide, and garbage time substitute Hernán Pérez spurned a late chance created by Martinuccio. But the outcome was well in hand.
Full Time: 3-1
Not the most assured performance in back, but three more points toward safety. Up front: Ruben is rolling, Nilmar worked today, and Martinuccio showed some flashes. In the midfield: we missed Bruno, but Marcos Senna held his own, and Borja and Cani drove the team. In back: quiet games from our wing backs, and our stand-ins in the middle looked as such. On to Mallorca next Sunday!
Villarreal 3-1 Granada by goalsarena2012-2