The champagne is still in the fridge after a 3-1 loss to Atletico Madrid yesterday (for those of you who don’t know, I toast wins against the big three with a bottle of bubbly; like the weather in central California this winter, this season has been dry so far).
Zach gave some pretty good stats analysis but I wanted to give the eye test/fan reaction to yesterday.
First off, if you want to hear me discuss some of this, I was a guest on the Colchonero Chat podcast today; Jeremy Beren and I talked about the game and Villarreal’s season so far. Here’s the link!
So beyond that....the first 20 minutes were basically it as far as we were concerned. After some opening exchanges that meant little we started to push forward and our goal came after a period of good buildup play in their half. But that was the high point (and that was a lovely goal from Paco, I must say).
I saw a number of things that worry me as we head down the stretch of the season:
(1) lack of real scoring chances. It mystifies me that we have such dynamic midfielders but so much of their dynamic play is taking place among themselves in the middle third of the pitch. Which I suppose is another way of saying that Paco has been largely isolated in every match he’s played so far in yellow. And also that he and Gerard are still getting used to each other.
(2) we come out from the break flat, every game. The goal before HT hurt us, sure, but it had been coming. Asenjo had already made an outstanding double save, Morata had been brilliantly disposessed or brutally fouled in our box before pulling the trigger (depends on who you believe). The real problem was that after the break Atleti immiediately took control of what had been a 50-50 match to that point, and never let go. I don’t know what words Calleja gives his team at halftime, but how often have we come out in the second half playing much better than the first?
(3) Our older players are....getting tired. Sure, we’re only playing one match most weeks. That’s not physically taxing, but mentally....I don’t know, I felt Albiol was still feeling the effects of playing alongside Funes Mori for the past month; Santi Cazorla had some nice touches in the first 20-25 minutes but then disappeared; Vicente Iborra seemed off the pace all day. I don’t know what fitness regimen we’re on, but the lack of energy as the match went on was palpable to me.
(4) Calleja’s analysis of the problem was decent, but what he tried... To give him credit, I believe he saw the same thing we did—our offense had less and less width as the match went on, and we were just getting bolloxed up in midfield. His prescription for that was to withdraw first Gerard, then Iborra and bring in Samu and Onti. Maybe Gerard was carrying a knock, I don’t know, but usually he’s brought in Samu and Gerard has pushed up in a 4-4-2.
Ontiveros offers quickness and so on but he’s terribly selfish at this early point of his career, as for that matter is Chukwueze. Neither one felt like a sub coming on to link up with Alcacer, which I think is what we needed.
I am second to none in my love of Santi, but unless Gerard was playing on one leg I would have taken Santi out for Samu and pushed Gerard up into the 4-4-2, and I would have withdrawn Iborra for Anguissa at halftime.
Very good—Alcacer, Asenjo.
Good: Anguissa (limited action), Peña (especially first half), Santi (first half).