Having been unable to catch any of our last few matches, it was a pleasure to watch Villarreal and Athletic Club yesterday. Sid already recapped the action, but here are five takeaways from the game for me:
(1) This is a scrappier Villarreal team than we have had in some time.
Athletic Club was, as we expected, a physical side, looking to harass us into turnovers, win fouls, and create chances from set pieces. This strategy was partly successful, but our back four was willing to give as good as it got--as was the whole team really. There's a strong backbone to this team--Ruiz, Bailly, Bruno, Pina, Areola.
(2) Individual plays made the difference.
The first half-hour was actually pretty tepid stuff, with neither team managing to test the other. What made the difference? Creative runs and passes to break down the defense. Most noticeably Baptistao's to earn a penalty in the first half.
(3) Our depth was essential
Bakambu out after 12 minutes with a sprained ankle, Soldado ineffective due to muscle problems and withdrawn at the break. Remember the days when that would have meant moving a midfielder to the second striker position, and/or bringing in a defensively-minded players to protect the 1-0 lead? Not anymore. Attack, attack.
(4) Still worried about our set-piece defense, though
Athletic Club could have scored from a flick-on corner when the score was still 1-0, but San Jose put a free header from a meter over. Athletic's consolation goal came from a corner, too. This is a concern--we are going to find a lot of teams basically trying to defend our verticality and speed, and trying to score themselves from free kicks in dangerous positions or corners.
(5) Don't give away stupid yellow cards
Clos Gomez had a mare of a match, yes, but a couple of the yellow cards we got were silly. When you have a card-happy referee, don't--as Baptistao did--encroach on a free kick from practically the half-way line. That said, I still have no idea what Eric Bailly's yellow card was for....