This was really a game of two halves, or more truthfully a game of two parts.
For the first 57 minutes, Villarreal were in their same formation as last week with one striker (Bacca) up top. Initially this seemed promising but as the game wore on Salisu pretty much marked Bacca out of it—and while Moi and Santi had a few good moments in between the lines, the Submarine rarely troubled Valladolid. The home side should have scored around the half-hour mark when Masip palmed a Santi shot out toward the penallty spot, the Pucela defender got the ball caught between his legs and Gerard Moreno nipped in to steal the ball and score. It was ruled out for a foul on Gerard, but there wasn’t one.
Valladolid opened the game with pressure on Villarreal in its half, and that led to numerous corners, plus one turnover and a good chance which Asenjo came out and blocked—and though the ball squirted over him, Ruben Peña was on hand to clear it off the line. But after about 15 minutes, the visitors couldn’t keep up that pressing, so their chances waned.
Their other big scoring chance came just after halftime when, for really the only time in the game, the visitors opened up our defense on a quick counter. Sandro Ramirez’s softly placed shot bounced off the far post.
The last 33 minutes were completely different. Javi Calleja pulled Bacca for Karl Toko Ekambi and moved Gerard up front, and this immediately began to pay dividends. Samu Chukuweze and Javi Ontiveros came on for Moi and Vicente Iborra over the next 15 minutes, and this version of Villarreal created much more danger. Ekambi was denied twice, numerous shots were blocked, Villarreal just looked far more dominant and Valladolid hardly controlled the ball once outside their box, much less in our half. The crowd in the Ceramíca sensed that a goal would come, and it eventually did.
There are penalties that one can argue about for a long time, and then there are penalties like the one Salisu committed on Ontiveros. A little one-two between Onti and Ekambi opened the defense up and Salisu was caught flatfooted and could only trip Ontiveros with a deft right-leg kick. No question about that one. Santi Cazorla placed a perfect penalty, Masip guessing correctly but unable to keep the ball out.
It didn’t seem as though Valladolid had a whole lot left to offer, but Villarreal ended any doubt with a goal in the 89th minute—Ontiveros got it with a header but the cross from Chukwueze was a thing of jaw-dropping quality. A little dribble, a little look, and a perfectly placed ball to the late runner at the far post. That was something.
Again, pretty much everyone played well, though Bacca was not much in evidence after the first 20 minutes or so. Gerard did not get a goal but played really well on both ends of the pitch and ran until the final whistle. Iborra were good; Santi was good too. But the change of system and bringing on Ekambi was really the key. If he could finish the opportunities he creates, he would be a world-beater.
Next up, Barcelona on Tuesday. It looked like both Ruben Peña and Vicente Iborra were nicked up in this game so we will see how they are. I’m expecting we’ll see Mario anyway, and probably Bacca will be benched for Toko Ekambi.
Our first home win of the season (you’ll remember that took us a while last year) and first time we’ve had two shutouts in a row in the league since last February (0-0 at Valladolid; 3-0 over Sevilla at home). Endavant!!