Not sure what to make of this one. Is it a point away from home...or two points dropped? Glass half-full or half-empty, I suppose. With our direct rivals facing tough tasks this weekend (Celta visiting Rayo prior to a midweek Copa del Rey showdown with Atlético Madrid; Eibar visiting San Mamés; and Sevilla visiting the Calderón), Villarreal should retain a healthy bulge in the La Liga "best of the rest" table.
Twice behind on the road and salvaging a point is good. Falling behind twice on basic defensive mistakes is not. Finally scoring a headed goal (first of the La Liga campaign, from a corner to boot!) is. Conceding gobs of chances and being saved by Daniele Bonera(!) and Alphonse Areola time and again isn't.
The expected XI came out, but Eric Bailly is just not healthy. And after Felipe Caicedo's blatant handball aided his control, the Ecuadorean striker made mincemeat of the Yellow Submarine defense. Caicedo raced past three players - including the lunging Cote d'Ivoire international Bailly - then tucked beneath a tardy Areola for the opening marker on just four minutes.
Caicedo 1-0 4'
Villarreal responded, but much of the play featured moments of promise frustrated by a force field around the box. Not enough possession in the danger areas - the incisive pass to spring a telling cross was missing. And there wasn't too much going forward from Mario Gaspar and Jaume Costa on the wings.
From one of Roberto Soldado's flashes of hold-up play sprang the equalizer. With a deft backheel with his back to goal, the Villarreal #9 created an opening for the somewhat-maligned Manu Trigueros. Trigueros has not played up to the potential shown in years past in 2015-16, but he made no mistake with a far-post finish on 24 minutes.
Trigueros 1-1 24'
But back to the hosts. The 4-2-3-1 employed by former Villarreal player Constantin Galca (who coincided with his Romanian compatriot Gica Craioveanu) worked to perfection going forward. Caicedo was a constant threat (as he has always been against Villarreal) until an early injury departure, and Burgui, Marco Asensio, and Gerard Moreno behind him offered flair and youthful energy.
Villarreal fans undoubtedly expected Gerard to make his presence felt, and he did not disappoint Estadio Cornella-El Prat. On a seemingly innocuous foray down the right flank, Gerard was the only target in the box against four defenders in yellow. In came the cross, only Gerard reacted (Bailly was the closest cover), and it was by Areola in a flash. Living up to his word, Gerard did not celebrate against his former club.
Gerard 2-1 40'; HT 2-1
In addition to the aforementioned Caicedo injury, Marcelino and his staff finally decided that Bailly had seen enough. With Víctor Ruiz suspended, up stepped Bonera - after a long injury layoff, and having seen limited action since joining the club at the end of the transfer window. And Bonera acquitted himself wonderfully in the second 45 minutes, making a few pivotal clearances to keep the hosts from putting the match out of reach; even more impressive considering the opposition's pace. Areola did his part with a few key interventions as well.
As noted above, Villarreal huffed and puffed but could not blow the Espanyol house down. There were stretches when the pericos were trapped in their own half, but the Yellow Submarine was neither incisive nor clinical on this day. Yet it still seemed like there was another goal (or two) in this one, and Espanyol had not killed things off at the other end.
The breakthrough came from among the least likely of sources - a headed goal from a corner. Denis Suárez had generally squandered Villarreal's first seven corners, but the eighth (an inswinger - maybe a left-footed player should take from the other side?) left the Espanyol goalkeeper in no man's land. And Mateo Musacchio was on the spot at the far post to beat his marker and put a solid head to the ball. 2-2 with just two minutes to play.
Musacchio 2-2 88'; FT 2-2
And so it ended - Gerard's protests for a nonexistent foul after the goal earned him a second yellow card. But Marcelino García Toral's men could not finish off the comeback, and the Villarreal manager kept a substitution to burn a hole through his elbow patches. What that says for Samu Castillejo and Nahuel Leiva remains to be seen. Back home for Granada next Saturday evening.