Over the last few years we've seen the Yellow Submarine play down to the level of the opposition time after time; we've seen superiority in play translate into one (or no) goals; we've seen teams counter our play and take the points with one successful attack, and we've seen our club throw away vital points late. As I typed in the starting lineups yesterday, it was obvious--even without Gio---we had the more talented and incisive side. But would we show that on the pitch?
IN our preview podcast Ravi noted Osasuna would probably come out and take the game to us, spurred on by their strong support from the El Sadar stands, quite close to the pitch. And that did indeed happen, with the first ten to fifteen minutes being relatively even. But the limitations in Osasuna's play were soon evident. Oriol Riera may have been a decent Segunda striker, but as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 in the Primera, he offered little. One header over the top from a set piece when he could have done better, and a couple of stupid fouls on Asenjo, were all he provided on the day.
Villarreal were content to let the Basques pass the ball around a bit, then break up the play and motor full speed ahead--and the makeshift Osasuna defense had no answer for the speed of the Submarine. In the 15th minute Javier Aquino burst down the middle, found Perbet, but he tried a low-percentage shot rather than look for Jony, all alone in front. And five minutes later another chance was squandered, when Jony rounded keeper Andres and crossed the ball to the far post, but the Frenchman had inexplicably stopped his run and the chance went begging.
And then, just as we were about to wonder what had happened to our magnificent scorer of last year, Perbet scored an absolutely brilliant goal. Cani to Jony, Jony to Jeremy, who looked as though he had miscontrolled the ball--but he rolled it through Andres's legs! And shortly after, Bruno played a ball forward with Cani, Aquino and Perbet all onside; this time it was Aquino who put it away. The Osasuna defense looked totally lost, Andrés raged at them, Osasuna coach Mendlibar shook his head, and the crowd seemed torn between appreciating our play and starting up chants for a new coach (plus launching a few paper airplanes onto the corners of the pitch). It could have been 3-0 before the break when another fine play was cleared off the line.
HT Osasuna 0-2 Villarreal
Second half was less frenetic, mostly because we knew Osasuna had to attack, and were quite content to let them sit back and pass the ball to little effect. I don't actually remember much in the way of concrete chances, though--Osasuna did create some corners but they were easily dealt with, and Musacchio in particular seemed to be at the right place to cut out any promising pass toward an attacker.
With Villarreal two goals to the good, would Marcelino bring on Gio, given that he had missed some training during the week for 'precautionary reasons'? Yes, he would, and did. Perbet came off, Gio came on, and in the 72nd minute Uche replaced Jony, so we had a different combo up front.
Within a minute Uche made an impact, with a clinical finish after a nice rampaging run down the right by Aquino and assist from Gio. 3-0, and the Osasuna fans were leaving in droves. It could have been worse.
Osasuna's best chance of the night came from a Loties shot in the 87th minute from outside the box that Asenjo saw all the way, but had to react quickly to tip over the bar. Referee Borbalan signaled only two minutes of added time.
FT Osasuna 0-3 Villarreal
Before the takeaways, a few notes (all refer to games in the Primera Division only):
3 wins in a row, first time since January 2011 (Osasuna H, Real Sociedad H, Espanyol A; Copa loss in between)
2 consecutive road wins, first time since September 2010 (2-1 at Levante, 3-2 at Malaga, part of five consecutive wins in the league)
First away shutout since March 2012 (0-2 at Rayo)
First three-goal away win since Nov 27 2010 (3-0 at Zaragoza)
First win at El Sadar since 2006 (4-1 w/Forlan hat-trick)
(1) Aquino, Cani, Bruno, Manu just overwhelmed the Osasuna midfield. We were worried about de las Cuevas--he hardly saw the ball and was substituted early in the second half.
(2) The Perbet vs Uche debate (and Jony as super sub vs starter debate) can run for a while as long as they are all playing like this. Both strikers are maddening in that they miss some easy chances, but they are putting away the hard ones. Uche played really well as a sub last week and took his chance very well after coming on.
(3) Fortune favors the bold. Yet again, Marcelino made his three subs by 75', and he could have been excused for deciding to give Gio a rest this week. But he read the game correctly--Jony and Jeremy had worked hard, but were tiring, and fresh legs could bring a third goal and certain victory.
(4) Osasuna may replace their coach (and probably will), but their problems run deeper. Playing a single striker at home is only going to work if your back four is strong and you can create danger in set pieces, and they accomplished neither. Admittedly their back four was impacted by injuries but I was astounded at how easily we were able to create chances with direct play.
(5) Yes, our opposition has not been topflight yet, but we can feel great about what we have accomplished. Now we have a break before taking on Madrid, then Celta (A), Espanyol (H), Betis (A), and Granada (H). ENDAVANT!