Ten points (and ten goals) from four matches. Another fast start for Villarreal under Marcelino García Toral. This time the opposition (on paper) went up a notch, but the result was the same.
Both the Yellow Submarine and los leones had faced midweek Europa League exertions, with today's hosts losing in Vienna and today's visitors winning at Nuevo San Mamés. So each manager rang in the changes with nine substitutions, but the consequences were very different: Castillejo, Nahuel, and Soldado in; Aduriz, Beñat, and Raul García out.
Predictably the Yellow Submarine started more brightly, but Athletic showed a threat from its limited set piece opportunities. And los leones showed as much of an interest in Villarreal’s players’ extremities as the ball, kicking out at Cedric and Soldado in particular. Unfortunately, Cedric went off on a stretcher after fifteen minutes, and Soldado left the match at halftime. Bad news to start a three-match week.
But Cedric’s replacement Leo Baptistao made the most of his opportunity in a physical affair shortly before the break. After winning a tussle with Gurpegui, the Brazilian striker entered the Athletic box and juked a covering defender. As Gurpegui raced back into the play, he stuck out a foot and made contact with Baptistao, not the ball. Clos Gomez pointed to the spot, and Bruno Soriano (back in the lineup after his two-match league suspension) converted with a Giuseppe Rossi-like paradinha. 1-0 (Bruno penalty) at HT.
Adrián López came on for Soldado at the break, and the hosts pushed for a second, but San José came closest early on with a header over the bar from point-blank range. Then came the visitors’ cavalry in the form of Aduriz and Raul García. But far from wilting, the Yellow Submarine delivered a killer blow through its vice-captain. Mario Gaspar hit a screamer from out of nowhere, and Gorka had no chance. The yellow #2 knew it was in from the moment he hit it.
Beñat came on for Athletic, but the Yellow Submarine was now in full flow. Nahuel and Castillejo tore down the flanks, and the hosts were much closer to a third than the visitors to an opener. And the two "backup" strikers combined to put the match out of reach.
Adrián took advantage of Athletic’s advanced backline to get in behind, but the yellow #20 appeared to have lost the opportunity. But in fact Adrián’s patience allowed Baptistao to enter the play and created a channel for the pass. And the Brazilian striker made no mistake with a killer far-post finish. Aduriz spoiled Areola’s shutout bid with a last-gasp header – no surprise it came from a corner – but the result was no longer in doubt. 3-1 at FT (Bruno penalty, Mario, Baptistao; Aduriz).
On to struggling Málaga on Wednesday evening with a full head of steam. Endavant Villarreal!