Villarreal faced a scrappy but technically limited home side on Sunday afternoon at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia. The Yellow Submarine wasted no time imposing its will, and an early sending-off and penalty award shaped the remaining 80 minutes. Bruno Soriano tucked away the resulting spot-kick, and penalty-winner Ikechukwu Uche added a second-half brace to round out the scoring. Three goals, three points, three straight results.
Appropriately, three notes from the victory:
1. Stars came to play. The key to a strong side is its backbone. Going forward, Villarreal has that in Bruno and Rubén Cani. Add in a dynamic Uche, and an opponent cannot key on just one attacking threat. And do not forget that Giovani dos Santos was omitted from the squad for one additional recovery week.
Cani and Uche made the early running, with the former playing in the latter over the top in the tenth minute. The Nigerian international skipped past Costa Rican international Keylor Navas, and with the goal yawning, the Levante goalkeeper pulled back Uche. A clear penalty and red card by the letter of the law, though I have seen leniency for the keeper in the same situation - not on this day.
Bruno took charge of the penalty in Gio's absence. After a lengthy delay for backup goalkeeper Javi Jiménez's arrival - in place of the talismanic Jordi Xumetra - Bruno took a page from Giuseppe Rossi's book. One paradinha later, Jiménez went the wrong way, and Bruno tucked away the penalty. 0-1 on 12 minutes.
2. Squad depth all around. Levante hardly threatened with 10 men, particularly after an injury to Sevilla loanee Baba Diawara. Credit goes to Gabriel Paulista, who is quickly cementing a place in the full-strength XI alongside Mateo Musacchio, and substitute left back Bojan Jokic. While the Slovenian international captain offers less going forward than Jaume Costa, his positioning and resolute defending are valuable attributes with attack-minded wingers.
Speaking of which, both Hernán Pérez and his replacement Javier Aquino sparked the attack, with the Paraguayan hitting the woodwork with a spectacular volley. The Mexican international exploited Levante's fatigue in the final half-hour and should have done better with a couple of point-blank chances.
3. A bit of quality. After the opener, Villarreal sat back a bit and allowed Levante to come into the match. Pape Diop's header from the edge of the box late in the first half was the home side's only shot on target, but with a one-goal margin, every set-piece was nerve-racking. Enter Uche to finish off the match.
Jiménez dove to deny Bruno late in the first half, then Hernán and Aquino left money on the table as mentioned above. Manu Trigueros also was in alone, with Uche screaming for the pase de la muerte, but Manu hit the keeper. So Uche was not going to spurn his chance after Bruno sprung him with a precise through-ball between the Levante center backs. The Nigerian finished coolly at the near post, and Levante's resistance was broken. 0-2 on 74 minutes.
And Uche was not done. With the outcome no longer in doubt, the Yellow Submarine continued to push forward - substitute Jérémy Perbet was in hot pursuit of a goal. From a corner, Perbet hit the bar with the goal yawning, and the rebound fell near Uche. Talk about confidence: Uche turned and struck a powerful chilena which left Jiménez no chance. 0-3 on 89 minutes.
A nice win to give us 13 points from 7 road matches. Talk about improvement under Marcelino García Toral.