Today’s match.....where do I start? Even after having hours to reflect on it I am still not sure how to describe this one.
Valladolid did do a good job of pressing in the first half, and Unal was able to find Sandro a lot by dropping deep into the attacking half, sort of like Gerard likes to do for us. I wouldn’t say Villarreal were terrible (well, maybe I would) but we seemed confused and apart from one fast break that ended with Alcacer hitting the post, we had little offense.
We were fortunate to go in 1-0 down, actually—not only did Sandro miss a golden chance after a Funes Mori error (a recurring theme on the day) but Albiol escaped a handball call after a VAR review, which could have been a penalty, and then he and Ünal tangled in the box and the ref waved play on. (Ünal was a little bit feisty playing against the team that owns him, I thought—and lucky not to get at least a yellow card for a stamp on Funes Mori near the end of the half).
The second half was completely different, at least the first 25 minutes. Villarreal switched to a 4-3-3 with Alcacer at the point of the spear, Moi and Gerard on the sides, and immediately things were better. We scored the equalizer less than 10 minutes in, Alcacer put a great chance just wide of the post about 10 minutes later, Valladolid were on the ropes....why Calleja didn’t let this lineup run for another 10 minutes, I don’t know.
The Samu-for-Alcacer substitution in the 71st minute made no sense to me whatsoever. It killed our momentum, it forced Gerard—a player who is willing to track back—up to the top of our attack, and it took our best finisher (the miss a few minutes ago notwithstanding) out of the lineup.
It might have made sense if the next substitution had been, say, Bacca for Moi, dropping back to a 4-4-2 with Gerard as second striker and Bacca as the goal poacher, but that substitution never happened. Instead we got Ontiveros, and Valladolid were content to force he and Samu to the flanks and defend the cross to the middle. Not only that, but after hardly getting the ball past midfield, now Valladolid were able to go forward and expose our defense.
Albiol I thought must have been feeling the effects of the flu, because he made several unforced errors in the last 10 minutes and looked exhausted. Funes Mori had been our weak link throughout, continually caught out of position. Goodness, I hope we get Pau Torres back soon.
There aren’t many matches where you feel your side was unlucky not to win, but at the same time lucky not to lose, but this was sure one of them. I came away feeling that if we could meld Valladolid’s pre-game planning and back line with Villarreal’s midfield and strikers, we’d have quite a squad. Ironic that Kiko Olivas, whom we let go years ago, has turned out to be an OK defender for them.
We’re in seventh, but it’s almost certain only the top six get into Europe, and that’s not going to be easy. Valladolid, meanwhile, are looking good bets to survive for another year in the Primera.
Scoreline was, for what it was worth, what I was thinking (though I realize I forgot to add it to Zach’s preview). Best player for me was Trigueros, though Santi made the pass that counted. And how nice for Gerard to get back on the scoresheet. Levante awaits....