Villarreal and Spartak Moscow played an entertaining match if you didn’t care who won, with two softish penalties (one to each side), a couple of outstanding goals, and lots of defensive blunders, for a 3-3 final. (Longer highlights are here.)
Villarreal started in a 4-4-1-1, with Samu Chukwueze and Nicola Sansone as wingers, and Fornals behind the lone striker Toko Ekambi. The ex-Angers man gave the Submarine the lead in the 13th minute, with a strong shot into the far corner of the net after being played in by Trigueros. The home side equalized through a penalty awarded against Sansone for handball in the area.
HT Spartak 1-1 Villarreal
The second half began well for the Submarine with a goal four minutes in by Pablo Fornals, courtesy of a Chukwueze pass rebounding off a defender. In a wide-open game, Villarreal looked to be the more likely to score, but then two substitutions happened that changed things.
Spartak brought on attacking midfielder Sofiane Hanni, and almost immediately Calleja removed Chukwueze in favor of Santi Cazorla, who took over as the winger on Hanni’s side. Santi can do many things, but defending is not one of them; Spartak scored twice within three minutes to take a 3-2 lead, both goals involving Hanni and Ze Luis. The first came when Luis headed a Tashaev cross home over Victor Ruiz and Alfonso Pedraza, the second from a Hanni shot which flew off the near post (his second post of the day) and rebounded straight to an unmarked Lorenzo Melgarejo.
At this point it was 3-2, but we still weren’t done. Villarreal won a corner in the last play of the game, Layun aimed for Funes Mori, who trapped the ball on his chest, and as he shot a Russian defender tugged his arm and the Argentinian went down. Penalty to Villarreal, and Santi Cazorla stepped up to take it and scored. His first goal for Villarreal since 2011, and his first for anyone since October 2016.
Spartak 3-3 Villarreal
As I said earlier, I really don’t know what to say about this match. Calleja got it right for awhile, and admittedly our roster has something to do with this, but when you’re up 2-1 on the road, the game is wide open and you look to be the better team, it’s not necessary to change much. Gerard for Sansone (who had been poor and was on a yellow) made sense, but taking off Samu and Ekambi for Layun and Cazorla didn’t. Those were subs you would make if we were behind 2-1 and trying to break down a defense. (Admittedly, Layun’s cross led to the Cazorla penalty).
Then again, looking at our bench, I am not sure what other changes he could have made. We didn’t bring Morlanes or Iturra, either of whom could have come in for a tiring Trigueros in midfield; we didn’t bring Miguelon. Maybe the real issue was team selection.
I see a mentally fragile team with little confidence, players that are either not 100% physically fit (Trigueros) or not mentally in the game (Sansone). How much of this can be laid at the foot of the coach I do not know. I do know that usually it’s the coach who pays the price though.
The good: Ekambi; Fornals; Chukwueze; Funes Mori
The bad: Sansone
The ugly: the last 20 minutes plus all but the last bit of added time. Woof.
Espanyol is next.