As I was preparing to watch the Villarrela-Levante match, news came over twitter that Gabriel Paulista had indeed been sold to Arsenal, and Joel Campbell was coming on loan the other way. I was able to get to the official site before it crashed, which tells you the traffic it received--especially considering a good proportion of Villarreal supporters were already heading to El Madrigal for the match, if they weren't already there.
Almost lost in the shuffle was the fact we had a match to play against Valencian neighbors Levante. Villarreal began well enough, but within 15 minutes anyone watching had to realize part of the reason for Villarreal's domination of the ball was the fact that Levante was willing to sit back and defend--two banks of four, sometimes a band of five, inside their own half. It was all about defending and trying not to concede a goal for the froggies.
The second thing one realized is that we missed Denis Cheryshev--his speed and ability to open up the flank would have helped us immensely. Since he was suspended, we had Moi and Jonathan dos Santos on the flanks, and while both are good players, they were playing more centrally so we had little width to the attack. Ike Uche was finding it hard to find space to run into (plus his first touch was letting him down) and Luciano Vietto was pretty much the only danger man we had.
In fact, the best chance of the half (apart from poorly directed headers at both ends from Barral and Uche, and a dangerously headed attempted clearance from Musacchio that fortunately went straight to Sergio Asenjo) fell to Vietto, at the top of the box. He made one of his quick turns to create space for a shot, but it was partly blocked by a Levante defender. Diego Mariño had to change the direction of his dive, but the block took enough speed of the ball that he was able to knock it wide.
And that, folks, was about it.
HT Villarreal 0-0 Levante
Villarreal obviously discussed widening the attack at halftime, because Moi certainly played as much more of a winger in the second half. However, I couldn't help feeling that if we were going to do anything, it would need to involve Manu Trigueros. Moi, while quick, is not fast, neither is Jona, and so our "4G" game of quick vertical passing was not working--what we needed was accurate passing between the lines of the defense, which Manu showed a great ability for last season.
Well, he was involved, though maybe not quite in the way he expected. Ten minutes into the second half, Manu controlled a ball at the top of the box, to the right of goal, and created space for a left-footed shot straight at Mariño--his shot wasn't particularly hard, but it was spinning, and it was at least on goal. Our ex-B team keeper flubbed the attempted catch and the ball bounced straight to a quick Vietto, who could not and did not miss.
I'd like to say Villarreal put the pedal to the metal after that, but we really didn't. Gio came on for Uche with about a half-hour to go and his introduction led to a couple of brief flurries around the goal, but then Rukavina came on for Manu, Jona moving to the pivote, and it was clear we were looking to strengthen defensively in midfield and hold what we had.
Gerard replaced Vietto late on, and if Gio's through ball hadn't been cut out by a diving defender would have had an excellent chance to make it 2-0, but it was and so he didn't.
Levante's best opportunity came from a tremendous slash of a shot, a third of the way up the pitch, from Camarasa. Had it been on target, Asenjo would have had a great save to make, but as it was, it merely troubled a supporters' club sign (not ours) and the people sitting behind it.
Mateo Musacchio was lucky not to be booked or worse for a shoulder charge against Barral, but the Levante man over-egged the pudding as he frequently does and referee Borbalán waved play on. Overall, though, there was very little threat from Levante against a well-organized Villarreal midfield and defense.
Borbalán decided we should play four minutes of extra tie for some reason, but it came and went and Villarreal ended up with a valuable three points.
FT Villarreal 1-0 Levante
Best player? Kind of a tossup because no one played all that well for us, but I suppose Jaume Costa had one of his better games, and Victor Ruiz was great. So those two. Vyntra and Ivan Lopez played particularly well for Levante in defense, but their attack was pretty much nonexistent (one shot on target).
Levante just seem to be able to play us tough--remember last year it took a last-minute Perbet golazo to break down the Levante defense. This could have easily been the end of our streak of 23 matches in which we've scored--but it wasn't.
With this win we have 38 points, even with Valencia and a point back of Sevilla. Those two meet tomorrow.