Yes, Villarreal were exceedingly unlucky but questions have to be asked of the team selection. Coach Calleja picked almost the same team as won in San Mamés (Santi Cazorla coming on for Layún) but this was not the team for this sort of battle. Our fullbacks were ineffective: Mario Gaspar had probably his worst half as a Villarreal player and Jaume Costa offered little in support either. Alfonso Pedraza should have started for him.
The real problem was the substitutions in the second half: Santi Cazorla was hauled off for Ekambi and we moved to a 4-3-3 when the match cried out for Santi’s passing skill and control in tight quarters—Fornals was the obvious choice to remove if we were going to go to a 4-3-3. But the real decision, which came back to haunt us, was keeping Gerard Moreno in the game.
Some days a player just has no luck, and this was Gerard’s day for that. He hit the post in the first half, powered a couple of headers off target in the second, and even when we were awarded a penalty, he stepped up to take it and promptly lashed a poor shot down the middle that Masip saved with his feet. Bacca or Ekambi taking the penalty would have made far more sense on the day.
It’s just increasingly obvious that while putting Funes Mori in the pivote has helped for now defensively, we have no plan B to attack now that Chery and Casti are gone.
Our Attack Plan A at the moment is roughly: (1) pass through a packed middle of the pitch on the ground with Fornals and Trigueros; we end up creating too much traffic for ourselves to accomplish anything; (2) Mario or Jaume Costa crosses the ball towards no one specifically and we hope for the best; (3) Win a corner from one of these first two plans; with Funes Mori in the lineup, we’re actually dangerous from those now.
There are some real questions to be asked. Yes, the players have to perform, and clearly a couple of today’s starters had off days, to put it mildly. And it’s been clear for awhile that this team was going to be very dependent on Gerard, so when he has an off day, it’s very tough. But the coach needs to both plan a starting XI based on what the opposition can be expected to do, not just play the same team that won a completely different game next time. And during the game, he needs to react to what he sees on the pitch and make the appropriate changes. Layún for Mario was appropriate, the other changes weren’t,in my opinion.
The good: Well, Leo Suarez got some useful experience :)
The bad: Calleja’s starting XI. And Mario’s 45 minutes, which deserves at least an honorable mention in the ‘bad’ category.
The ugly: Gerard’s penalty
Victor Ruiz was our best player. That’s about all that can be said.