Villarreal opened their home campaign with a win to go top of La Liga...for 24 hours at least... as they came from 1-0 down to emerge 3-1 winners over Espanyol at El Madrigal.
The Yellow Submarine elected to keep an unchanged side from the one that drew with Betis on the opening day of the season, with the only change being Manu Trigueros coming in for the suspended Bruno. Manager Marcelino was himself serving a suspension after receiving his marching orders in the last game, which left assistant coach Rubén Uría and co. to take charge from the dugout.
It was a surprisingly cagey start by the hosts, who struggled to get a foothold on the game, with the only real chance coming from Castillejo who hit a tame effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Five minutes into the first half a head injury forced Victor Ruiz off the pitch for treatment. While the centre-back was busy being bandaged up on the sidelines, Espanyol exploited their one-man advantage and took the lead. Former Villarreal man Gerard Moreno put in strike partner Felipe Caicedo who outpaced Villarreal's makeshift defence and rounded the despairing Areola to slot home.
Villarreal chased for an equalizer but got little change from a stubborn and resolute Espanyol rearguard. Castillejo showed flashes of quality and his in-swinging free-kick found Baptistao, but the striker could only direct his header over the bar.
After the restart, Villarreal continued to probe and press, but for all the home side's dominance, they failed to convert it into clear-cut chances, and it was actually Espaynol who looked more likely to grab the second goal of the game, as Moreno went close from Víctor Álvarez's cross.
The second half marked the appearance of another ex-Villarreal man, as winger Hernán Perez came off the bench for the visitors. It was pleasing to note that the Paraguyan received a good reception from the home crowd.
Then came the turning point. Just after the hour mark, the Villarreal bench made a double-change, bringing on Samu & Bakambu for this summer's other new boys Castillejo and the anonymous Leo Baptistao respectively.
The substitution worked like a charm and within minutes the home side were celebrating an equalizer. From a short throw, Pina came in from the left hand side and played the ball into Samu whose weighted flick found Soldado, the striker swivelled and hooked his shot past the Espanyol keeper. It was the second goal in as many games for the new signing from Tottenham who has quickly begun to rediscover the goalscoring touch that persuaded the London outfit to pay €30m for his services two summers ago.
Bakambu's pace and movement up front was becoming a constant menace to the tiring Espanyol backline, and just when it looked like the game was heading to a draw, the striker got his reward in the 87th minute. Soldado turned provider this time, playing a quick through ball to the Congolese striker who skipped around the goalkeeper and coolly tapped it into the empty net.
Villarreal then wrapped up the three points in injury time when Soldado squared it across goal to Bakambu for a simple tap in.
Villarreal (0) 3
A. Areola; Mario Gaspar, Víctor Ruíz, E. Bailly, Jaume Costa; N. Leiva, Tomás Pina (J. dos Santos 76'), Trigueros, Samu Castillejo (Samu 64'); Soldado, Léo Baptistão (C. Bakambu 64')
Subs not used: M. Barbosa(GK), B. Jokić, Pablo Íñiguez, A. Rukavina
Goals: Soldado 67', Bakambu 87', 90+3'
Bookings: E. Bailly
Espanyol (1) 1
Pau López; Arbilla, Álvaro González, Antonio Raillo, Rubén Duarte; Paco Montañés (H. Pérez 57'), Víctor Sánchez, Javi López, Víctor Álvarez (Burgui 86'); F. Caicedo (Cañas 73'), Gerard Moreno
Subs not used: F. Bardi (GK), E. Roco, Salva Sevilla, Marco Asensio
Goals: F. Caicedo 5'
Bookings: Pau López, Javi López, Paco Montañés, F. Caicedo, Antonio Raillo, Arbilla