Perhaps Villarreal are fated never to open the season with a home win. Opening at home against Granada, a team which in five past visits to our ground had never even picked up a point, you’d surely favor our chances. And yet.
This was a match of two halves, or more precisely of two quarters and a half. The opening 20-22 minutes were completely dominated by Granada. It did not seem as though Villarreal could even touch the ball, and when they did, passes out of the back were easily intercepted. Andrés was called upon to make two good reflex saves within 10 minutes.
Was this just a case of a newly-promoted side coming in with confidence, but soon shooting its bolt? In the second part of the first half it seemed perhaps so; Villarreal finally began to string some dangerous passes together, if not shots on goal. The penalty that gave us the lead was clearly a penalty, though rather more clumsy and unnecessary than preventing a really good chance to score, in my opinion. About the penalty that resulted in Granada’s goal the less said the better; I am surprised it was given and more surprised VAR didn’t overturn it. Still, it has to be said a level scoreline at the half was not that unfair.
HT Villarreal 1-1 Granada
The second half was simply crazy. Villarreal came out with much more attacking purpose, with Moi and Quintillá combining on the first goal down the Granada right. On the other side, after being largely anonymous in the first half, Samu Chukwueze began to show his stuff. His goal (set up by a Santi interception in midfield) was sublime, and just before that his pass to Iborra should have produced a goal but was sidefooted wide of the open net—and all this came after Gerard has scored from nice interplay from Moi and Quintillá again.
When Samu teased his shot home to make it 4-2 it seemed as if we had three points in the bag. But in the last 15 minutes, Villarreal looked tired and exhausted, while Granada’s substitutions gave them added injury and they ran riot. Two headed goals from corners gave Granada a 4-4 draw, and it could have even been 5-4 if not for a (correct) narrow offside call.
FT Villarreal 4-4 Granada
As happened last season, Villarreal could not hold a lead. 4-2 should have killed the game off; it didn’t. I actually don’t think our back four played that badly, in spite of the four goals; it was really inattention on set pieces that killed us (and don’t forget the Granada penalty came off a free kick play, too).
Vicente Iborra was one of the keys to our survival last season, I thought, but playing him in an advanced position in the middle of a threesome, while Santi and Anguissa played as a midfield duo, was problematic. Iborra didn’t provide any support to Gerard at all, and neither one of them saw the ball much—each had only 22 touches. (Santi had 80 and Anguissa 62, btw). Still, if Iborra had put away the one chance he had, we might be looking at things differently.
Unfortunately, in many ways this was deja vu all over again, with us unable to get the balance between attack and defense right. We were outshot, 14-12; gave up 7 corners, winning 3. And, as seemed to happen a lot last year, our opponents made the most of the chances they had.
Man of the match: Moi Gómez for me.
Other positives: Anguissa, Pau looked good. Samu was great but needed to be involved more. Quintillá supported the attack very well. Santi was Santi.
Off-days: Gerard (in spite of the goal), Iborra, Peña, Andrés (on set pieces, anyway). And Calleja.