Villarreal and Valencia played to a 0-0 draw today before a large crowd at the Mestalla, including over 1200 Villarreal supporters who made the short trip down to cheer their team.
The Submarine showed some danger early and were the were the better of the two clubs, both in terms of ball possession and ideas when they had it. But apart from one free kick that Mateo Musacchio just missed connecting with (and Alves had to palm away to safety anyhow), there weren't really any scoring chances to speak of.
This match was much more like a typical EPL match than a La Liga one--Valencia came out to be very physical, especially against Vietto and Campbell, and the pitch was slow and dry, favoring brute force over technique (or, to put it another way, Valencia over Villarreal). The referee also seemed to take his cue from the EPL; he was quite content to allow physical challenges without brandishing cards, but his first booking was for a rather modest shirtgrab by Mario Gaspar. And his second went to Luciano Vietto, who came up complaining after contact in the box between he and a Valencia defender. It certainly wasn't a dive--there was contact--but it wasn't a penalty either.
Regardless, Villarreal were the better side for the first 45 minutes, but the Valencia back four was hardly troubled. Otamendi and Mustafi were particularly impressive at the back.
HT Valencia 0-0 Villarreal
The first half had been something of a tactical battle, or at least a battle of two clubs who were successfully canceling each other out. It was clear both coaches would have to make changes, and with Villarreal having a very thin bench due to injuries and suspensions, Marcelino made the only move he really could make after an hour, bringing on Gio dos Santos for Gerard Moreno. Gerard had started out brightly but faded, and we didn't have enough spells of controlled possession in the box for him to be a real threat. Joel Campbell, who also began well but faded (perhaps because of the rough treatment meted out to him by Los Che) went off, with Rukavina replacing him.
Valencia hauled off the ineffective Feghouli and the limping Gayá for Rodrigo and Orban, all of these changes coming before the 70th minute. But probably the most important change--Negredo for Alcacer--didn't take place until the 78th minute. Nuno will probably regret leaving him on the bench so long, because Negredo was a constant threat with his physicality and aerial dominance, just what the home side had needed.
Villarreal's third change was to introduce give Alfonso Pedraza a debut, replacing Jona dos Santos, who had played in midweek and took a knock as well. Valencia continued to press forward; Asenjo had already made an impressive double save from Alcacer before his departure, and he was called upon again to make a couple of stops from Negredo in the last ten minutes of regulation.
A possibly determinative moment could have come shortly before the end; Negredo and Bailly tussled in the box and the Mestalla clamored for a penalty as they both went down as the cross came in, but the referee wasn't buying it.
The Submarine held out during 5 minutes of extra time, Eric Bailly and Pedraza both going in the book, and from my perspective the match ended just in time, as we were clearly out of gas at the end and had five players on yellow cards.
A victory for either side would have been unjust in this one, frankly; not enough creativity from either side in front of goal to deserve a reward. Endavant!!