30 minutes daydreaming in Polish leaves three pointless points behind
On a night where goals, and consequences of those goals, splattered all throughout the peninsula across La Liga stadiums, Villarreal managed to toy with an absolutely burned out Real Madrid, and bring them back from the dead with 30 minutes to go, while the Yellow Submarine daydreamed away.
The news from the capital kept coming through the entire week: Villarreal was solely focused on the final on Wednesday. Emery did not care about what playing the B team would do to the legitimacy of the league. The Yellow Submarine was going to hand the match to Zidane’s man, and that was outrageous.
As it is often the case when someone who doesn’t have any idea about something talks about that something, these people were wrong. Unai Emery played everyone, everyone who he, is planning on playing in the final.
Rulli featured on goal, a good idea by the Basque manager to give the Argentinean some more minutes to approach the match against Manchester United in form. On defense, bar Juan Foyth, the starting defense: Mario on the right, Spain’s odd couple Pau and Albiol in the center, and Pedraza, an EPL-style horse that keeps showing he can be reliable, on the left.
Capoue, Parejo, Yeremy and Trigueros took ownership of the midfield, and Bacca, fresh from a hattrick, paired with Moreno.
Nothing to reproach. Nothing to criticize. To the dismay of some and the agreement of others, Emery came to Valdebebas with the starting eleven.
It showed. Real Madrid, a team that has made obvious that the season ran roughly a half dozen matches too long for them, could only watch as Villarreal, with the serenity of a team playing to one of two European options this season, played slowly, calmly, and intentionally against the inexistent midfield of the local team. The gap in the center was obvious the entire time, and Villarreal took it over.
The display in the first half was palpable. Capoue led with both the prowess to defend, and the physicality to run through one, two, three Real Madrid players at a time, and give the ball to the more talented teammate, even though he liked himself enough to even try a shot. Trigueros helped Pedraza on the left, and Yeremy did the same on the right.
Special mention deserves the young winger. To me, Pino was the best man of the match for 86 minutes.
The 18-year-old did it all for Villarreal. Shot the most, dribbled the most, scored the early Villarreal gol with a world class touch and chip, won the most tackles, and overall showed the most talent and will to win, bar Benzema.
Yeremy graduated today with honors. I am no longer anxious about not having Chukwueze on Wednesday. Yeremy is ready.
In the meantime, in the first half, the rest of the players rotated around Yeremy. Bacca showed will but was extremely erratic and disconnected from the last pass often. He also proved to be no match to the speed of Militao (understandably) and barely lasted an hour.
Back to square one between him and Alcacer for Wednesday.
While the Pedraza & Trigueros and Mario & Yeremy partnerships worked the wings to choke Real Madrid’s wingers, Moreno ran back from the defense, opened spaces a la Forlan, and at times, left Real Madrid speechless with a one-two touch of magic.
Even though he was not good towards goal, Moreno did well and seems to be in sync with what is needed of him against Manchester United. Open space, take responsibility, take chances to weave through the defense. Take shots.
The team was creating more and more chances. Real Madrid was watching them come by, hopeless. The visitors’ defense cleared the first line of pressure with ease, and enabled their midfield to have all the space in the world.
Elsewhere, Celta was even beating Betis, and Villarreal was temporarily fifth. All was good in the world.
After 60 great minutes, and with a few clear chances gone by, Emery’s men started to feel gravitationally attracted towards Gdansk. The final in Poland seemed closer and closer, and nobody wanted to miss it. Moreno let up. A few changes in the team scrambled the way in which they were choking Madrid’s style of play. Parejo was feeling his 52nd match this season in his legs.
The team decided it had been a good day, and started to drop back, solid at first, but with 30 minutes to go, starting to show cracks. And that’s when the sheer pride of Modric, Benzema, Marcelo, “the old guard,” came out to tell La Liga that, in case Atletico did not get three points, they would do their part.
Real pushed forward, often with disregard the space they were leaving behind them. Villarreal did not take their chances on the counter. In one of the few moments where I have to say I am not happy with the performance of the team, Rully made a high-school level mistake and almost conceded a goal.
I literally mentioned in last night’s podcast that Rulli’s handling of the ball with his feet makes my heart jump. I’m concerned for Wednesday; I may be one of the few thirty-something, relatively healthy people to die from a stroke if he keeps this up.
The chances kept coming; and by the end of the match, Moreno, Capoue, Yeremy, Trigueros, were all gone. Who was left on the field tried to hold things together, just a few minutes more. Raba had a few clear chances to at least shoot on goal. News of both Betis and Real Sociedad winning against teams playing for nothing meant there were even less reasons to hold out.
With half of the starting team on the bench, and the other half on the pitch in Poland, pride won out, and Benzema and Modric, with two sensational goals, changed the trajectory of the match in a matter of five minutes.
No time for more, and the streak of one win in the past twenty-something matches against Real Madrid, continues.
Nothing much to say, other than at a La Liga match today, there were 60 minutes where Villarreal showed the world why they will play the Europa League final, and that they can beat Manchester United. There were also 30 minutes where the team had nothing to play and everything to rest itself for, and did exactly that.
Let’s hope it will all make sense on Wednesday.