Villarreal and Espanyol drew 2-2 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round of 16 encounter, which probably means the Submarine have to win by a goal in the Cornellà-El Prat ground in a week’s time to move on.
That they even have that chance was only due to two late goals, both headers, one by Toko Ekambi, one by Carlos Bacca. For the first 75 minutes, Villarreal had played as poorly as I’ve seen in a long time. Granted we were not using our top lineup, but little matter.
The Trigueros—Caseres duo in midfield was never going to work—and didn’t. On the flanks, Jaume Costa picked up a yellow card in the first ten minutes, so was even less defensively-focused than usual, which was a problem because Alfonso Pedraza, our best attacking player on the day, was playing ahead of him.
On the other side, Miguel Layun isn’t a defender, and he was playing athwart of Dani Raba, who didn’t occupy a lot of space with the ball. The first half showed the problems with this setup—Espanyol’s goal was a fine shot from Sergi Darder from an attack which began with a Villarreal giveaway (I thought by Trigueros, though it might have been from Layun). It was noteworthy that Darder could have been taken down by Jaume Costa, but, already on a yellow, he had to let him go—and Pedraza couldn’t get back in time. Espanyol really could have been a couple of goals up at halftime because of our poor defensive shape and our failure to close anyone down on the flanks. Villarreal had the ball in the net at one point, Pedraza feeding a wide-open Toko Ekambi, but the forward was clearly offside.
HT Villarreal 0-1 Espanyol
The second half started like the first—Rosales ran past Pedraza but Andrés was there to save and the defense eventually hacked the ball clear—and really got interesting 12 minutes in when an Espanyol defender ran through Carlos Bacca in the box. No foul called, no penalty given, no VAR review. It was a clear penalty, but we’ve used to not getting those calls at home, haven’t we?
Chances at both ends were followed by Vicente Iborra getting his first action for Villarreal. Unfortunately, five minutes after he came in (and just after we had fluffed a 3-on-2 break) Espanyol went 2-0 up, Alex Lopez running onto a cross from someone (Rosales?) and heading over Andrés, while everyone hoped for offside. It apparently was reviewed, but no question, Layún played him on.
At that point I was about to remind myself that I had to watch the end of this nightmare in order to do this recap, and was steeling myself for another 20 minutes of whistles from the stands and drek on the pitch, when.....
The switch flipped. Villarreal stopped trying to pass along the ground and went more to an aerial game, and started winning balls in midfield too. Iborra’s first contribution, sad to say, was a tackle on Hernán Pérez that forced him to come off, but now Villarreal were buzzing, and a Pedraza cross was headed home by Toko Ekambi with five minutes to go. Miguelón Llambrich had come on for Jaume Costa just before that, and four minutes later he crossed a ball to the middle that Carlos Bacca headed home. 2-2!!
Espanyol held on (or maybe I should say ran out the injury time with a series of time-wasting maneuvers) and the last play of the match saw Bacca just too short to get on the end of an Iborra header into the box from a free kick.
FT Espanyol 2-2 Villarreal
I don’t really know what to say about this, other than the first 75 minutes or so showed how badly we could play, while the last 15 showed we could recover from that. The balance between offense and defense is still poor; Espanyol were able to pass the ball around in our defensive third far too easily most of the match. Our best player was Pedraza, but he was a dual threat—great at bombing down the pitch and creating opportunities for us to score, but then being caught out of position on the ensuing counterattack.
Nice to see Bacca and Toko E score, too. We’ll have to see where Iborra plays on a regular basis for us—he may officially be part of the pivote in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with the hope being that he wins balls in midfield, but he is clearly going to have some license to play box-to-box as well.
Next up: Getafe on Saturday. (They won 1-0 at home over Real Valldolid in the Copa today).