And so, Villarreal, for the second season running, stumble and finish second in their Europa League group. We'll find out on Monday who we play in the round of 32, but chances are it'll be someone pretty good and we're probably not going to enter the tie as favorites.
Villarreal were put in difficulties almost as soon as this match started; in the eighth minute Bojan Jokic misplayed a high ball, but ran back and cleared it from the Plzen attacker. And amazingly, the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. I can only assume he thought Jokic had hit the ball with his hand as it bounced, but he clearly didn't; nor did he commit any foul against the attacker. Never mind, Plzen's Daniel Kolar tucked the penalty home.
The Submarine seemed to be in a funk after that, only beginning to put things together after the half-hour mark. Cedric Bakambu equalized with an excellent first touch, dribbling round the keeper to score--Soldado with another assist.
HT Viktoria Plzen 1-1 Villarreal
At this point it seemed only a matter of time before the Submarine scored a second, as Bakambu, Soldado, Bruno...all went close. It took a volley from a tight angle by Jonathan dos Santos, who had just replaced Samu Garcia, to break the deadlock in the 62nd minute; but before Villarreal could get comfortable, Plzen equalized through a run down the right and a perfect cross to the unmarked Kovarik to make it 2-2.
With the news from Vienna not being good, Villarreal had to push forward in search of a third goal, which left us very open to quick counterrattacks. Adrian Marin (who had replaced Jokic, who left with some sort of injury late in the first half) blocked off a goal-bound shot with Barbosa beaten, Plzen screwed up a 2-on-1 break, and as the match entered its last 10 minutes Denis Suarez had a golden opportunity to put Villarreal up but couldn't direct the ball toward an open goal after Manu Trigueros had gotten to the byline and put a cross back past the keeper.
And then, as the match entered the 90th minute, Villarreal's defense crumbled yet again. Just as against Getafe and against Huesca, the goal came primarily because a player was allowed to get in shooting position at the top of the box without being closed down. Bruno and Musacchio were both a step late getting to Tomas Horava, and Barbosa didn't really help himself either, being out of position and only able to make a late, despairing lunge.
As the clock wound down on three minutes of injury time, Bruno Soriano poked home a tying goal from a melee in the box, but the whistle went immediately after. Apart from the €120k we get from a draw as compared to a loss, it really didn't matter; the bigger prizes (first place in the group and a better chance to move on to the round of 16) were gone, as word came through Rapid Wien did indeed win today.
FT Viktoria Plzen 3-3 Villarreal
The teams finishing first in the EL (so far): Molde; Liverpool; Krasnodar; Napoli; Rapid Wien (whom we can't face in the round of 32); Braga, Lazio, Basel. Dropping down from the CL and seeded are Porto, Olympiacos, Manchester United, and Bayer Leverkusen. We could face any of these clubs except Wien; plus there are four groups, playing now, where we don't know the winners yet.
The troubling part of our play of late has been we are too reliant on Soldado and Bakambu. We are not playing good defense, we are not winning balls back in midfield, and the wingers are not doing enough. As Marcelino said afterward, we'll ship 7 goals to Madrid on Sunday if we play like this.