Real Madrid and Valencia had already felt the wrath of an energetic, hungry, and possessed Villarreal at Estadio El Madrigal. The former somehow lived to tell the tale thanks to ex-Villarreal goalkeeper Diego López. Our local rivals, not so much. And so it was the turn of high-fliers Real Sociedad to fall by the sword.
Five aspects of Villarreal’s five-star performance in tallying a manita (five goals) in back-to-back league outings:
1. Giovani dos Santos. Questioned before the match for a recent dip in form, partly due to injury. His response to the naysayers and display in front of Mexican compatriot Carlos Vela: two goals and two assists, including a stunning pass to Uche to round off his evening. A master class performance by one of the best players to ever don the yellow uniform (already). Just hope he sticks around for a while.
2. Ikechukwu Uche. Questioned since his costly signing from Real Zaragoza and tepid on-loan season at Granada. His response to some pockets of Villarreal supporters: another brace to seal the best-ever primera vuelta by a Yellow Submarine striker. That’s right, better than Diego Forlán’s first-half form in his Golden Boot-winning season. I think we’ll keep Uche around, thank you very much.
3. Mario Gaspar. Questioned for a lack of pace and stagnation since his debut in the Primera. His response to maddi: two assists, stellar defending, and the willingness to bomb up and down the flank. He even took a couple of attempts on Claudio Bravo and deserved a goal. Well done, Super Mario. Did I hear Vicente del Bosque snoring?
4. Rubén Cani’s replacement. Questions about a lack of squad depth and cover in the creative midfield department. Moi Gómez’s response to onlookers: another lively performance, as in Vallecas, and his debut goal in the Primera. Not bad as a teenager. And then Moi was replaced by 17-year-old Argentine (not for long if Spain gets its way) Nahuel Leiva, who showed flashes of his immense ability. A great moment for the Villarreal faithful when the change occurred after the hour-mark—teenage canterano for teenage canterano.
5. Passing range. Questions about a lack of width at times and difficulty picking out passes. The team’s response to anyone who will play their game: we can tear you apart. Bruno Soriano is back from injury and beating down del Bosque’s door, Manu Trigueros was imperial in his duties in the doble pivote, and even Mateo Musacchio sprayed the ball around from center back. A nearly two-minute spell of possession at 5-1 on the scoreboard took the air out of the ball and delighted the home fans who braved the cold and game time (those are related, funnily enough).
Marcelino García Toral has a job to do: bring the boys in yellow back down to Earth in time for Thursday’s Copa del Rey Round of 16 second leg. In that match, a soft goal against from a corner could be enough to knock out the Yellow Submarine. But after a year in charge, the Villarreal brass knows it has the man for the job. A por todas!