Villarreal defeated Napoli 1-0 to take a slim lead into the second leg of this tie, next week in Naples. This match was as tight, cagey, and hard-fought as we expected it would be. The visitors opted to rest Higuain and Insigne, while Villarreal went with their usual starting lineup of late.
Villarreal had an early chance when Pepe Reina's clearance found its way to Roberto Soldado, but the keeper dived to parry his shot. Napoli had a couple of half-chances, but players couldn't quite get on the end of crosses, and most of the half was played as we expected--Napoli content to let Villarreal have possession, but then look to break quickly once we lost it.
The major talking point of the first half was an injury--Jonathan dos Santos appeared to pull a hamstring in the 35th minute and Samu Castillejo had to come on for him. Napoli were slightly better, then entire half considered, but Villarreal had to be happy with their defensive work, as Areola had had little to do.
HT Villarreal 0-0 Napoli
The second half was more of the same; Napoli were consistently looking to attack down Samu's side, then play the ball to Hamsik in the middle, then Callejon, Mertens, or Gabbadini--but Villarreal were also able to put some passes together and involve both Castillejo and Suarez in attacks. The best of these could have produced something on the hour mark, Samu C slipping the ball to Baptistao whose cross for Soldado was perfect, but Roberto couldn't get a shot away.
That was Leo's last action, as Bakambu came on for him, and Gabbiadini, who had hardly impressed, was removed for Higuain shortly afterward. Cedric could have given us the lead but blasted the ball over the net from close range, going for the far corner.
The main talking point of this half occurred in the 71st minute, when a Napoli player tried to slip a cross from the byline toward Higuain. Two Villarreal players dove to stop the cross and the second, Bruno Soriano, appeared to hit the ball with his arm. Referee Nijhuis waved play on, though, and gave Callejon a yellow for protesting.
Callejon left for Insigne shortly after that and Tomas Pina replaced Manu Trigueros, Marcelino shoring up his defense in midfield. Villarreal were holding their own, winning a couple of corners and having a Denis Suarez shot saved by Reina, and a Mario Gaspar shot was blocked by Koulibaly.
From one of those corners, with ten minutes to go, Samu Castillejo won a free kick at the top of the box. Denis Suarez and Bruno Soriano both shaped to take it, Denis did and his shot went flying over the wall, off the bottom of the crossbar and behind Reina.
Villarreal threatened a second with some good team play but Bruno's hurried shot from the top of the box went wide. Three minutes of injury time seemed to take about fifteen, but the whistle did go and Villarreal had a famous win.