In a season with many lows, Villarreal has officially hit rock-bottom. It was not losing in Odense. Not going pointless in the Champions League. Not falling into the relegation zone. This.
Villarreal lost 2-1 today to colista Zaragoza by conceding two goals in the final five minutes plus added time. After most fans had deserted La Romareda. After the Yellow Submarine had spurned countless chances to go two or three goals ahead. After three and a half minutes of stoppage time, of the three allotted. After a clear handball in the box by los maños' Javier Paredes.
But most of all, after Villarreal stopped fighting. After José Molina took off his three most advanced players. After Carlos Marchena made a silly and unnecessary foul on Joan Oriol's twin brother. And after it no longer appeared possible to lose.
Two injury replacements: Jaume Costa for our Oriol at left back, and Alejandro Martinuccio for Marco Ruben up front. And a tactical move: Javier Camuñas for Rubén Cani, despite the latter's anticipated return to La Romareda. I liked the message to the squad: no one is privileged.
Costa immediately made an impact down the left, causing problems for the poor Zaragoza defense. But we started slowly, as usual, and allowed the home side to gain a modicum of confidence.
Cue a moment of brilliance: Camuñas to Nilmar, then back to Camuñas over the top. Some intricate play on the edge of the box, and #17 was in. He unselfishly laid it off to Martinuccio, and there was the Argentine's first goal in yellow. Laid on a platter, but it was no less than his efforts deserved.
0-1 16' Martinuccio
Predictably, the home side dropped its heads, and Villarreal seized the initiative. Nilmar missed a few chances, both in shooting and passing. Still a bit off following multiple injuries, to no one's surprise. I don't think it's an attitude issue, as he showed commitment today, including on the defensive end.
A real penalty shout in 28' was denied. Costa again made waves down the left, cutting inside a Zaragoza defender at the byline. He laid it off for Nilmar, whose shot likely would have been saved by Roberto. But Paredes left his arms outstretched, and the shot squarely struck them.
The penalty should have been given, but the ref was poor, and Paredes was smart not to make any sudden movements of guilt. And only Nilmar protested, though his view was best.
For the hosts, Paulo da Silva replaced Mauricio Lanzaro just before the break. Then Edu Oriol came on for Ángel Lafita at half time, also due to injury. So Manolo Jiménez was down to one change for the second 45 minutes.
Half Time: 0-1
And he made that move in 58', with Cani replacing my MOTM Martinuccio just a minute later. The second half lacked any real flow, with Zaragoza creating a few more chances, but little that tested Diego López. However, Villarreal just could not land the killer blow.
Borja Valero was uncharacteristically poor, receiving fouls but not his usual dynamic self. Maybe the physical beating has taken its toll. Joselu Moreno came on for Nilmar, the crowd whistled again for the Zaragoza owner's head, and Marchena took the place of Camuñas. Under ten minutes remained, but we could not make it.
Marchena arrived on the pitch and committed a silly foul against a lively Edu Oriol. Too bad the twins didn't take the pitch together. From the resulting free kick, Bruno Soriano headed the ball away, but right to an unmarked Luis García at the edge of the box. The former Espanyol man made no mistake, and the match was level.
1-1 85' Luis García
Then we saw chaos. With its three most advanced players off the pitch, Villarreal surged forward in search of a second goal. Something that could have been brought to our attention yesterday.
And the Submarine almost found it, with Borja shooting straight at Roberto when in alone. Both sides were going for all three points. Marchena was then booked for a foul after the whistle had gone, Jiménez prevented Gonzalo Rodríguez from taking a throw-in (classy), and Apoño was booked for dissent in 90'+3. Three minutes were allotted, so it seemed the ref would blow the whistle at any moment.
But he did not, and self-inflicted disaster struck. The Villarreal players seemed ready to leave the pitch, so a long ball from Roberto was not particularly well-defended. Nevertheless, no danger was apparent, but an untimely deflection off Marcos Senna fell to Abraham. And the Zaragoza midfielder made no mistake in front of goal, sending what remained of the home crowd into delirium.
2-1 90'+4 Abraham
One final boot upfield from the center stripe, and the ref then blew his whistle. Game over.
Full Time: 2-1
We didn't deserve to lose, so the players can feel hard done by the ref and match circumstances. But the performance was not worthy of a road victory, either, so the loss of one point is not that relevant.
Where do we go from here? The short-term answer: a long week of training before Getafe's visit next Monday. The long-term answer: I have no clue. But it's past time to inject some youth and vigor into this staid and aging squad.
If players want to move on next season, let's start the process now. Plenty of capable players in the cantera are itching for an opportunity. Heck, Jonathan de Guzmán is too. But the center cannot hold.