Two matches, four points. If the league is more important to you, then you’re happy. But a European win would have sent Villarreal through in advance of a nothing-to-gain visit to Limassol, Cyprus. Not to be.
Three takeaways from jornada 13 of La Liga (and Europa League matchday 5):
You cannot remain on top for 90 minutes. Villarreal played its best 45 minutes of the season to lead off against Gladbach. Adrián Marín and Mario Gaspar bombing down the flanks, Denis Cheryshev the provider, and Luciano Vietto the finisher. And Gabriel Paulista shutting it down in the back (that’s a pleasant refrain these days).
But 1-0 at halftime greatly flattered the Germans and ensured the game was still afoot. Blame some profligacy in front of goal (though not compared to what we’ve seen at times), but more the lack of a killer instinct that seems to dog this team. Throw in some individual brilliance from Raffael and Granit Xhaka, and perhaps the aftereffects of Sergio Asenjo’s head and neck injury in Barcelona (why did he play in the EL anyhow?), and the visitors left El Madrigal with a point and still on top of Group A. Two points lost.
Beat up on the lower lights. We all remember last year’s debacle away to Real Betis, the green-and-white colista. After a slow start in Córdoba, the on-form Vietto (and newly-minted Inter Milan target) ensured there would be no reprise. A spell of dominance followed, but again the Yellow Submarine could not secure a multi-goal advantage. Fortunately Córdoba did not have enough to place consistent pressure on Asenjo’s goal, and super-sub Ikechukwu Uche rode his luck to kill off the match with 20 minutes remaining.
Including the match at El Nuevo Arcángel, four of Villarreal’s upcoming eight league matches are against the bottom five teams in the table (Córdoba, Deportivo La Coruña, Elche, and Levante). Visits to Atlético Madrid and Málaga are also mixed in, but this is a great stretch to get on a roll. Hopefully that also includes progress in the Europa League and Copa del Rey.
Marcelino’s Garrido complex? The doghouse is back, and its first resident is Javier Espinosa. With no Rubén Cani, Moi Gómez, or Hernán Pérez, it seemed inevitable that the ex-Barcelona B interior would pair Cheryshev. But instead Marcelino García Toral selected Antonio Rukavina as a right midfielder, and predictably the attacks went down the left side the entire match. The Serbian international had no chance to succeed in that role, and he didn’t, even if Villarreal kept a clean sheet.
But wait, there’s more! Jaume Costa replaced Cheryshev at 0-2, and Villarreal saw out its advantage away to the colista with six defenders on the pitch. Shades of Lotina. For good measure, Manu Trigueros replaced Rukavina and bumped Jonathan dos Santos to the wing (where he has been completely ineffective) for the final 10 minutes.
Another important week ahead: away to Cádiz in the first leg of the round of 32 in the Copa del Rey, then home to David Moyes-led Real Sociedad in the league. Think Giovani dos Santos may get healthy in time for that one? Wouldn’t bet against it.