Javi Mata, on Radio Vila-real , just kept repeating how he could not believe we lost this game, and yes, it is hard to accept.
For the first 35 minutes Villarreal played Levante off the pitch; Gerard Moreno scored a goal after only three minutes, Toko Ekambi had a couple of shots saved and put another wide, and a Gerard flick off a Chukwueze feed somehow found the keeper rather than the net. Levante played better the last ten minutes but the 1-0 scoreline in favor of Villarreal at the break was extremely flattering to the home side.
The second half was quite even for the first 20 minutes or so, and then, disaster for Villarreal. Toko Ekambi was called for a penalty (a high boot) when clearing a ball inside the penalty area—a harsh call, but VAR came up with it.
If that was harsh, what followed was nonsensical. Andrés Fernandez saved the penalty (and the follow-up, and the cross that followed that) but the referee ordered the penalty retaken because VAR review claimed Andrés had come off his line early. Well, he hadn’t—all he had done was kept one foot on the goal line and made a leap forward, just as goalkeepers are taught to do. Andrés was livid, and received a yellow card. He almost stopped the next penalty, too, getting a hand to it, but it went in.
If that was bad, worse was to come when within two minutes Andrés himself was called for another penalty. This began from a poor clearance and backpass—Andrés was actually fouled by a Levante attacker, but that wasn’t called. Instead, his trip of the second attacker was—and Roger Martí slotted this penalty home too.
After that, the game was pretty much over, with most of the Villarreal players clearly in disbelief at what had happened. Javier Ontiveros came on and forced a couple of fine saves from Aitor (ex-Villarreal B, of course) and in injury time Gerard couldn’t put any oomph behind a shot from the penalty spot and Aitor smothered that. Story of our day.
FT Villarreal 1-2 Levante
MOTM: Well, for Levante, it had to be Gil Manzano, the VAR official.
Oh—for us? Probably Gerard, though Alberto Moreno and Toko Ekambi could make good claims too.
PS: Here is the screenshot of Andres—his foot is on the line as Roger strikes the ball.
So, two matches where we have failed to close out matches we should have, and mental errors cost us. Against Granada the errors were more what wasn’t done—marking people effectively on corners. Today, it is what was done—panicky plays in the box.
On the one hand, if we play the way we did in the first half, we ought to win a lot of matches. But on the other hand, if we can’t put those games away and self-destruct, there doesn’t seem to be the leadership on the bench or on the pitch to put things right. It’s early to say, and it’s only two matches, but it’s sure looking like last year all over again.
And if this is how VAR is going to be used in Spain, get rid of it. Please.
Oh, and here is the encroachment on the retake of the first penalty. Andrés was penalized on the first one for nothing, here there is a player well across the line (and note his marker still has his back foot on the line) but that doesn’t require a retake. Got it.