Unfortunately, none of us on the podcast got it right. Sevilla leave El Madrigal only 2 points behind us, after a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Sevilla were content to let us have possession, pass the ball around, and then break quickly once they'd intercepted it. And, as we knew would be the case, they offered danger on set pieces. The first 20 minutes Villarreal had more of the play, but (stop me if you'd heard this before) didn't really create much danger in the opposition box. Sevilla pressed us high up the pitch, which caused some turnovers in midfield, but mostly we were able to get the ball to the wings, but Uche and Gio were being snuffed out. Hernan Perez (mostly) and Javier Aquino (occasionally) were able to beat their men and get to the byline, but the resulting passes didn't result in chances.
In the 23rd minute Sevilla won a free kick after Rakitic was taken down, and he hit a low drive toward Cala, who was unmarked (Perez being the culprit) near the edge of the six-yard box. Cala's header was unstoppable, beating Asenjo high into the corner of the net by the far post, and it was 1-0.
Villarreal had an excellent chance to equalize a few moments later, but somehow a partly-unsighted Beto pushed a hard, bounding shot from Manu past the post. I still haven't figured out how that shot from the top of the box didn't go in. We had another nice chance when Hernan beat his man and crossed, but Aquino couldn't get any power on his header and put it wide. Then Sevilla threatened again from a free kick, a man was unmarked in the same place as last time but fortunately Bacca's shot was over the bar.
During this phase of play Marcelino was warned by the ref for complaining about Sevilla players fouling and getting away with it. In the 43th minute another hopeful Hernan cross came into the area, and to be honest it was a pretty good one, but Uche had gone down, feeling an arm in the back from the Sevilla defender, and appealed for a penalty. To be honest I thought he went down rather easily, but Marcelino complained again and this time referee Gil Manzano sent him off.
HT Villarreal 0-1 Sevilla
At halftime Villarreal decided to make a change, taking off Aquino and bringing Pina on. Manu Trigueros moved over to the left and Hernán Pérez switched to the right, with Pina partnering Bruno in the doble pivote. This made sense inasmuch as Sevilla weren't attacking down the wing anyhow, so Aquino's defensive qualities weren't needed, and Pina offered more defensively than Manu in the middle. This looked like it might pay dividends, as Villarreal began more dangerously. A Gio freekick was just wide and Beto saved after another fine Gio run.
Villarreal were still giving up set pieces, though, and Bacca hit the bar with a header and Asenjo made an incredible save to keep it at 1-0. But what proved to be the winning goal happened from a quick Sevilla counter, with Rakitic involved again. His pass toward a streaking Bacca needed to be cut out by Musacchio, and he failed to do so, spectacularly miskicking and leaving the ball on a plate for the Colombian to finish over a stranded Asenjo.
This happened shortly after Perbet came on for Uche, and somewhere in here there were various appeals for penalties and handballs that weren't given. The best of them was a Jaume Costa shot off a short pass from a freekick--I thought the defender had his arms at his sides, and so even if the ball hit his hand, the referee wasn't going to give it (and anyway, we aren't Barcelona or Real Madrid, who always get those calls).
Bruno had to go off with a muscle strain of some sort, too, and Jony came on for him. I guess that meant we had Manu and Pina in the pivote. Sevilla were content to let us knock the ball around, foul us when needed (not always called, to be sure) and generally use their height and strength to break up our attacks. But we were handed a lifeline in the 84th minute; a Jony pass to Manu (I think) who while falling down on the edge of the box pushed a pass forward to a streaking Jaume Costa. Cala tripped him, and it was as obvious a penalty as you will ever see. Penalty and a red card for him, so we had a man advantage as well.
Jeremy Perbet stepped forward and stroked a confident penalty--Beto guess left, Perbet went right. We had abut 10 minutes (counting injury time) to equalize, but we really only had one good chance, when Perbet smoked a cross from the right but neither Gio nor Musacchio could get a boot to it. Other than that, it was mostly Sevilla passing the ball around, winning free kicks, taking some time to take them...we just couldn't get the ball into the final third. The referee blew his whistle right on the four minute mark.
FT Villarreal 1-2 Sevilla
(1) Individual errors led to their two goals. The first came from poor marking, and to be honest they probably should have had a second goal from the same spot ten minutes later for the same reason. The second came from a miskick under pressure.
(2) We had enough set-piece opportunities ourselves to score--eight corners, I believe, and at least three dangerous freekicks. Nothing happened from any of them. We have to improve on that.
(3) We let the referee, but we let this get to us. Sevilla have bigger players, they were physical in the challenges, and committed fouls that weren't called, yes. Even so, it was getting to the point that every time a Sevilla player blocked the ball in the box, fans were shouting for a penalty, and our players were complaining too often. After a certain point the referee just doesn't want to hear any more.
(4) Gabriel: he did a good job defending one-on-one, but too often after he won the ball he just kicked it hopefully in the direction of midfield rather than attempt to pass to one of our players. And he was very lucky to win a foul against Bacca for what looked like a perfectly clean shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. Bacca had won the ball and was heading goalward before Gabriel fell down and fooled the ref into giving the foul. At least, that's how I saw it.
(5) Uche: he just didn't offer much today. Giving him 60 minutes was about enough. He was being muscled out by the Sevilla centerbacks and didn't offer much in the way of a target man.
(6) Perbet: that goal against Elche seems to have done him good. He played much better in that game after scoring, and here he was able to win some fouls, win some balls and get them to teammates, and look much more dangerous in the box than Uche. He stepped up confidently to take the penalty, too--I expected Gio to take it. If he could have taken a bit off that cross, we might have stolen a draw.
(7) Musacchio: his second miskick of the season that's handed the opposition a goal (Getafe was the first). Not sure what is happening, but when you're on an island and have to break up a quick counterattack, you've got to be decisive.
(8) Bruno: I thought he played well in the first half offensively, as he made a number of good diagonal passes and switched the play from side to side on occasion. But he was not the defensive presence he usually is--Rakitic was a handful. Maybe his leg started to bother him shortly after the break, because he was less effective in the second half.
(9) Marcelino's expulsion ("for protesting with hands raised", the ref's report says) was a joke. Yes, the ref had warned him, but plenty of other coaches in the league get away with far more than that every week and are never cautioned.
(10) Four league matches at home without a win, and three league matches overall without a win. We are going through a tough patch. The Getafe and Sevilla losses hurt because we made defensive errors that put us behind, and we don't have the firepower to easily recover from gifting goals away. Malaga of course had a defensive mistake too, one that would not have mattered if we had a two-goal lead.
In the winter market, we need someone who can play with either Aquino or Hernan if Cani isn't available. We can't play Aquino and Hernan together, as we tried today. Hernan offers more offense, but needs to play on the right; Aquino offers more tracking back, but needs to play on the right. You see the problem. And an upgrade from Uche would be good--someone who can consistently link up with Gio and be a more physical presence in the box. I don't see Perbet as a 90-minute player every game.
That's my Christmas wish list! Speaking of which, yes, yes, there is an official club Christmas "spot". Here it is. Enjoy!