A challenging test: a desperate Málaga side (with Duda's ever-dangerous crosses) away from El Madrigal with a depleted strike force. No problem for most of the match for Marcelino García Toral's men, but the goals would not flow. It took a Fernando Tissone own goal from a Denis Suárez free kick and withstanding a late boqueron flurry to assure all three points.
Five takeaways from Villarreal's fourth win in a row during midweek:
1. Nahuel Leiva's instant impact. The young striker of Argentine descent replaced Adrián López (yet another striking casualty) after ten minutes. Nahuel quickly made an impact by juking Weligton and earning a clear penalty (como una casa, as the Spanish say), but the rather oblivious official (for both teams) missed the call. Villarreal's #26 then spurned a couple of red-letter chances by dallying on the ball and being too unselfish. And some late inexperience halted a couple of time-wasting possessions. No goal for Nahuel's efforts, but he was a difference-maker yet again.
2. Eric Bailly controlled against a lone striker. With Amrabat injured, Charles led the line for the hosts against Bailly and makeshift center back Mario Gaspar. Bailly's physicality and anticipation took Charles out of the match and allowed Mario to generally escape from notice. However, Duje Cop's entrance as a second striker tested the Villarreal backline, and Málaga generated a number of dangerous opportunities as the match wound down. Great to see Eric growing in confidence with every passing match.
3. Jonathan dos Santos bossed the match. It was a rocky offseason for Jona. His brother left the club for the MLS, it was rumored that Jona may return to Mexico, and an unjust Gold Cup triumph saw his return to Vila-real delayed. So unsurprisingly Jona was still rounding into form - and left out of the squad - at the start of the La Liga campaign. But with European football crowding the fixture list, the full squad has had its chances, and Jona is back to last year's splendid form. With Tomás Pina as his partner in the doble pivote, Jona took on a more creative role, and his pace, ability to switch the point of attack, and defensive positioning shone through. A welcome sight for Marce.
4. Too much intricacy at times. So many chances, so few finished without Roberto Soldado and Cédric Bakambu. And a bit too fancy in the build-up thanks to the pedigree of players like Denis and Léo Baptistão. A stark contrast to Leo's best opportunity (which came from nothing): a quick turn with his back to goal, a low strike, and the deflection almost beat Kameni. Not enough of that. And perhaps from the manager too: strange to see Samu Castillejo left out of a scoreless match on his return to La Rosaleda.
5. Breathless moments...but all's well that ends well. After the dreadful own goal (what was Tissone trying to do?), Villarreal sat back and let Málaga come into the match. With the aforementioned Cop now Mario's responsibility and no substitution available to bring on Pablo Íñiguez, the boquerones came at Alphonse Areola and forced a few testing saves. But the French goalkeeper (not afraid of #13) stood tall and kept Villarreal's first clean sheet of the season. With a bit of luck after some loose passes late on.
And give it up for Antonio Rukavina's crossing ability! Something sorely missed from our wingbacks. Overall, a nice win at a tough ground.