Villarreal journeyed to the Basque Country for the first of three matches in eight days against Real Sociedad, this one the first leg of their Copa del Rey octafinal. Both coaches made some rotations from their usual XI due to injury or preference, voth made second-half substitutions to try to turn the tightly-fought match in their favor, and in the end we ended where we started.
Rather than go through a minute-by-minute description (you can look at the comments on the gamethread and get the key events anyway), I'd prefer to focus on the overall impressions and style of the match, which really was in three parts.
The first 30 minutes were cagey, certainly, with no clear-cut chances from either side. Control of midfield was closely contested, and La Real's defense was really not put under any pressure at all, apart from a free kick awarded to Gio on the edge of the box when he was pushed down. The home side had one good opportunity--Juan Carlos pushed out a Chory Castro cross/shot only as far as Griezmann, but the Frenchman passed when maybe a shot would have been better and the danger was cleared.
The second 25-30 minutes were more wide open, but no goals resulted. Villarreal had a chance to open the scoring in the 33rd minute when Aquino put Jony Pereira through, but his shot caromed off the keeper's shoulder. The Basques always looked dangerous on the break, though, especially Griezmann. Our back line was able to deal with things, though, and La Real's defense sat back so that players such as Aquino and Gio couldn't use their speed, and we were unable to thread the ball through the tiny passing lanes.
Nonetheless, we were denied a clear penalty in the second half when Gabriel Paulista's volley off a corner cllearly struck a defender's arm--but I guess only Barcelona gets those calls, right, Mario Gaspar?
Shortly after this came the third phase of the match, as both coaches made lineup changes to try to bring a result. Xabi Prieto and Carlos Vela came on for the home side (and later Elustondo), while Trigueros and Moi came on for us (and later Perbet). I would say we won this part of the match on points, but unfortunately we couldn't get the goal we needed on the scoresheet--and in fact Vela nearly scored for them, Juan Carlos making a superb save to deny him (and he also stoned Griezmann earlier--I've never seen a guy be so far behind the defense without being called offside, but JC came up big).
We achieved part of what we wanted to do--keep them off the scoresheet--but the lack of a goal for us means we have to win next Thursday in El Madrigal.
Who was hot: Full credit to Juan Carlos--he made two big saves to keep it level; the back four did well overall, Gabriel I can see is still working on his positioning sometimes but he is an excellent one-on-one defender; Tomas Pina had the best game I have seen him have for us all year--he supported the attack well and won the ball back in midfield a lot.
Who was not: No one played badly, but Jony Pereira seldom had a chance to use his speed and he's just not a great finisher; he battled to the end but I'd have to say he's our fourth-choice striker about now; Gio dos Santos was just not very influential today at all, and I think sometimes he needed to run at someone rather than slow the play down and look for the perfect pass.
Conclusion: Real Sociedad will probably feel they had the best chances of the game, from Griezmann and Vela; Villarreal will feel they should have had a penalty, and had another good chance from Jony. Overall, probably Villarreal played slightly better, but it was an even game.
We can expect the Sociedad defense to play similarly in El Madrigal next week, so I expect to see Uche or Perbet from the start along with Gio. We now know what we need to do. Endavant!!!