Wow, what a match. This game really fell into three parts: a rather tentative first 20 minutes as the clubs came to terms with each other, a second 30 minutes or so when Villarreal scored twice and could have had a third, Espanyol looking distinctly second best, and then a final 35 minutes, after Mateo Musacchio had to come off injured, when Espanyol scored once, threatened numerous times, and Sergio Asenjo saved a penalty to preserve the win.
The big news for Villarreal was the entry of Nahuel Leiva into the starting lineup--the young Argentine attacking midfielder became the youngest player ever to start for Villarreal CF (in the Primera, at least). Perbet and Gio started as the strikers, Moi, Nahuel, Pina and Bruno in midfield, and the back line had Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel and Jokic, making his second start in a row.
In the first half, Espanyol relied on Stuani and Sergio Garcia to break quickly once they had won the ball, as they pressed high. Villarreal at first tried some through balls to get behind the defense, which didn't quite work, but began to create some chances thanks to Bruno and Pina, who controlled things well from the pivote, and Moi and Nahuel, who provided width. Pina and Nahuel both put shots just wide, before Villarreal took the lead in the 36th minute, Gio winning the ball in midfield, Nahuel breaking down the left and crossing the ball to Moi who roofed it. Great goal!
It could have been 2-0 when Perbet latched onto a poor backpass and shot past Casilla, but his soft shot was cleared off the line.
HT Espanyol 0-1 Villarreal
Perico skipper Aguirre made two changes at the break, hauling off Abraham and Simao, who had done nothing at all, and bringing on Jhon Cordoba and Pizzi. Cordoba immediately created some danger, forcing Gabriel to take the ball away from him as he stormed forward, and within 5 minutes we had a second goal--this time it was Moi passing to Mario who was provider, playing a ball into space in front of Gio dos Santos; his shot was blocked, but it rebounded to Jérémy Perbet, who tapped it home. An excellent fast break with both players barely onside.
At that point, it should have been over, but three minutes later Mateo Musacchio came off, apparently feeling some sort of muscle injury. The combination of experienced-but-slow Chechu Dorado and a talented but inexperienced Gabriel in the middle of defense, facing the speed of Cordoba, Pizzi and Garcia, was worrisome--and to be honest, to this point Asenjo had been a little dicey in goal, spilling the ball a couple of times under pressure.
Nonetheless, this match should have been dead and buried in the 75th minute when Gio's cross should have found an onrushing Manu Trigueros (who had just replaced the concussed Moi), but instead Uche, who had only recently come in for a banged-up Perbet himself, tried a chilena and put the ball wide of everyone. Maybe Manu didn't call him off?
Within two minutes Espanyol had scored--a long ball upfield was controlled by Sergio Garcia who held off Gabriel expertly, and Jhon Cordoba received Garcia's pass between Dorado and Jokic and beat Asenjo. 2-1 with 12 minutes left, and the Espanyol supporters were really into it now, especially when Hector Moreno (I think it was) shot wide with our defense all over the place as the pericos pressed forward and used their height advantage to play head tennis in the area.
Villarreal just couldn't control the ball for long enough to give the back line time to rest, and I have to believe had Marcelino had any subs available to him Nahuel would have come off--he was clearly tiring and made a couple of turnovers that could've hurt us. Manu hardly saw the ball, but Pina and Bruno were working hard all over the pitch.
Uche was offside once, but we really didn't relieve the pressure with many chances ourselves. As the match moved into injury time, an Espanyol player (not sure who) dispossessed Nahuel and crossed the ball just inside of the penalty area, Gabriel mistimed his jump and gave away a penalty for a clear handball.
Up stepped Sergio Garcia....he went to Asenjo's right, Asenjo went right, and saved the penalty--the ball knocked around a bit but Asenjo was able to collect it and end that threat. The remaining couple of minutes of injury time were nervy, but a final Espanyol attack was whistled back for offside and referee Teixeira blew his whistle at last!
FT Espanyol 1-2 Villarreal
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