I had the pleasure of watching today’s match with our friends in the Athletic Club California peña, so maybe it’s just as well Denis Cheryshev’s late effort missed the net, but really: this was probably the best chance Villarreal will get to win in San Mamés, and we couldn’t quite get it done.
Overall, this was an exciting match (much better than last year’s turgid affair, as boring and as one-sided a 1-0 match as you’ll ever see). Manu Trigueros managed to be both goat and hero in the first half—his softly struck penalty was saved by Kepa, but 10 minutes later he slotted home a pass from Mario Gaspar at the top of the box.
Never mind that the penalty call was awfully soft—why Manu to take, why not Bakambu or Bacca? Or even Fornals? Strange choice.
The home side began well, but Villarreal controlled the first half after about the 20-minute mark and by the break it already looked as though Los Leones had one plan—to cross for Aduriz and see what happened.
HT Athletic Club 0-1 Villarreal
The second half began with Villarreal on their heels, though the Yellows looked dangerous whenever we could break forward. Around the hour mark we had a golden opportunity to score a second goal, but Roberto Soriano mishit a perfect pass and the chance was wasted. Another chance saw Rodri with a weak shot at Kepa when maybe a pass would have been better.
Meanwhile, Bilbao’s attack was basically Iñaki Williams trying to get around the defense and wining crosses, or Mikel Balenziaga crossing the ball for the aforementioned Aduriz. And the goal that seemed inevitable finally came in the 77th minute, with Aduriz (of course) heading home a Balenziaga cross (also of course), with Jaume Costa and Manu Trigueros near Aduriz but not near enough to disrupt his perfectly-timed jump and thumping header. Classic stuff.
Interestingly, neither team was willing to sit back and defend the draw—both looked to win. Villarreal should have done so in the second minute of injury time, when a counter and Fornals pass sent Cheryshev through—but his shot went wide of the post with the keeper beaten. Not to be outdone, Athletic Club came close too, but someone (Susaseta, maybe? or Aketxe?) sliced a shot wide from the top of the box. It would have been pretty much a duplicate of Trigueros’s goal.
Final: Athletic Club 1-1 Villarreal
Our best players: Mario, Rodri
Their best: Balenziaga, Kepa
Disappointing for us: Bakambu, Bacca, Fornals and Soriano had a grand total of two shots (one on target, an acrobatic effort by Bacca that Kepa pushed over the bar in the first half).
We had a number of dangerous-looking counters, and clearly that was what we were playing for, but we couldn’t create chances from them.
Yellow cards: Battling Jaume Costa picked up his fourth; Victor Ruiz his third; Daniele Bonera got one in the fifth minute, his first of the year.
Final take: I guess I should have bought lottery tickets, since my 1-1 prediction with an Aduriz header was spot on. But seriously, this was a match where a win would have put us a point behind both Madrid sides, we could have opened up more space over La Real....it feels like an opportunity lost.