Valencia fell to Villarreal in the Mestalla, with the only goal coming from Carlos Bacca midway through the first half. Los Che had 22 shots on goal, and threatened from the opening whistle, but virtually all of their attempts were off target. The closest they came was a header off the bar by ex-Submarine center back Gabriel. Villarreal had only two shots on net themselves, both early, but one counted.
There were plenty of polemics to discuss in this one. Pablo Fornals made a perfect pass to Carlos Bacca, who was barely onside—he was played on by Gabriel, who then stumbled, probably ensuring the linesman kept his flag down lest he reward clumsiness. Bacca beat Neto easily on the short side.
The Mestalla crowd became apoplectic, perhaps justly so, when a Valencia cross was defended by Manu Trigueros with his left hand in the air. On replay it looked as though the ball never made contact with the Villarreal man, instead it was a wayward header, but I’ve sure seen less called.
Valencia 0-1 Villarreal
The home side came out with yet more drive in the second half, but somehow in spite of buzzing all round the Submarine box, couldn’t produce the equalizer. A bizarre sequence near the hour mark that started with Simone Zaza slamming a shot off Victor Ruiz’s leg and screaming angrily for handball and the aforementioned Gabriel clanger off the crossbar ended up with the combustible Zaza comprehensively taking out Cedric Bakambu and receiving his marching orders for a second bookable offense (it could have been a straight red anyhow and probably should have been).
For some reason, after this Villarreal seemed to forget how to pass the ball to Rodri to distribute it to the rest of the midfield and forward, and it was Valencia who continued to create chances, all of which Sergio Asenjo was equal to. The Submarine had two gilt-edged chances to add to the lead, both involving substitutes—Denis Cheryshev missed a sitter, and Roberto Soriano broke on a 2-on-1 with Daniel Raba, had plenty of opportunity to send Raba in on goal with a simple pass, but instead dragged a poor shot well wide of Neto.
With just under 10 minutes left the referee decided to even things up by showing Manu Trigueros a second yellow for what was really more a dive by Guedes along the touchline than anything else, hardly a bookable offense, but try as they might, Valencia couldn’t score the tying goal.
Valencia’s frustration was complete when their best chance of the match fell to goalkeeper Neto, who had come up for a deadball chance in injury time, but he had a keeper’s shooting boots and missed the target. Fair enough, everyone else had.
So, a great three points for the Yellow Submarine, though Villarreal fans have to be honest here—how many times will we win a match when we’re outshot 22 to 9 (10 of the opponents’ shots coming from set pieces)? Villarreal played well in the first half, not well in the second, but somehow survived.
This win is important for morale, of course, but more than that, this result plus Barcelona’s win earlier produces a table with nine points between first and second, and nine points between second and sixth (and four more clubs within three points of sixth). And with Sevilla having just fired their manager, and the Marcelino honeymoon in Valencia seeming to be over, Villarreal are well-placed to move up. I just hope that six-point swing in the Sevilla match doesn’t come back to burn us.
It promises to be an interesting 2018!!