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Villarreal, the Champions League, and Braveheart

Unai Emery knew when to hold and when to attack against Juventus.

Juventus v Villarreal CF: Round Of Sixteen Leg Two - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

There’s a scene in the movie Braveheart where the English and the Scots are getting ready to have a battle, and the Scots begin by absolutely antagonizing them. They flash them, they yell and shout, and as arrows come pouring in from the English one poor sod is too slow in getting his shield up and even takes an arrow in the rear. Then comes a calvary charge that is surely going to overwhelm the Scotsmen on foot, whose calvary has apparently left the field. William Wallace, played by Mel Gibson, continuously just says ‘hold!’ as the charge that will surely overwhelm them gets closer, and closer and closer, with one of his lieutenants at one point even looking over out of the corner of his eye like ‘you sure about this?’. Then Wallace screams ‘NOW!’ and they drop down, lift up their pikes- the secret weapon they had stashed out of sight- and the calvary charge impales itself on them. In the chaos and fighting that ensue, the Scottish calvary returns and what once looked like a dire situation turns into a rout.

That was basically what last night was, to me. Unai Emery came into the match playing out from the back with short Rulli passes and absorbing all manner of pressure. The arrows of Juventus shot attempts came flying in fast, and the shield that is Gero Rulli stopped them time and again (with a little help from his own woodwork). Then Gerard Moreno, secret weapon that he is, stepped onto the pitch and everything Juventus had been trying to do for 70 minutes exploded in their face. Next thing you knew, we were in their box more dangerously than we had been all night, drawing penalties, and local boy Pau Torres put home a corner kick after we hadn’t really had a sniff of a free kick chance all night.

Emery played a very, very dangerous game last night and were it not for some heroic displays it would have been catastrophic for Villarreal, but just as he did last season in the Europa League the manager walked the fine line between disaster and victory perfectly, and the return of our magical number 7 brought it all off.

Excellent displays from often maligned Rulli and Pervis Estupinan should be well noted, Fracis Coquelin playing a destructive advanced role helped us win the ball in dangerous positions, and halftime adjustments to reduce the danger from their wide area play all came to fruition in a Champions League night we’ll never forget, but more than anything it was nerves of steal that let us stare at a charging enemy all night long and hold.