Real Madrid 2-1 Villarreal: “To die by the shore.” 

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.

[Match Report] Villarreal 4-0 Sevilla: Bacca and 10 more

Usually, when a team is close to a historic match for the club, the idea in the weeks leading up to it is to play things safe, to give bench players more minutes to prove themselves, and unless the need is there in the other competitions, save, as much possible, the starting eleven for that crucial event.

Yesterday, at La Ceramica, and due to the need Villarreal had to keep the three points in Vila-real to opt to the Europa League next season, especially if the final does not go their way, Emery did feature some starting players. Pau and Albiol in the center of the defense, Parejo as the creator paired with Trigueros, and Gerard Moreno, who wanted to increase his goal tally in La Liga, all started.

Emery did have to get creative in some instances, however. Funes Mori, a left centerback, had to play as a rightback; Moi Gomez was placed in midfield, where Capoue or Coquelin would usually play, and Bacca and Yeremy Pino starting from the beginning to add to an attack led by Moreno.

Opposite to Villarreal was Sevilla, who tried to go after the game from the first minute, and push Barcelona in the third position, but who could not capitalize on the talent on the grass to take anything home.

Even though the first twenty minutes of the match had Lopetegui’s men own the clear chances, an inspired Sergio Asenjo took care of business and made multiple acrobatic saves as De Jong, Ocampos and company watched the goalkeeper’s show. Sevilla took a small break to come up for air, and Villarreal took advantage of the situation with a well-placed header by Carlos Bacca, after a corner taken by Parejo. Sevilla looked confused, and Bacca celebrated with the crowd. The Colombian’s celebration seemed meaningful, sending a message to the crowd, and pointing his fingers to the sky.

Just like that, the first half came and went, and the second one started the best way possible for Villarreal. Gerard Moreno acted as a playmaker this time around, and with a millimetric pass to Bacca into space, enabled the striker to score with a classic “9” finish around the goalkeeper.

Right after the two first goals, and with Sevilla out of place and wondering how they got there, Diego Carlos saw two yellow cards, and left Sevilla scrambling to regroup. Lopetegui’s men officially took themselves out of the match.

With the team liking itself and enjoying the crowd, the two goals that followed both occurred in taking advantage of blatant mistakes by the Sevilla defense. Villarreal showed efficiency that will be very much needed against Manchester United if the trophy is to come to Vila-real.

The last goal of the match confirmed Bacca’s hat-trick, and gave the Colombian an opportunity to give the club and the fans at the stadium a parting gift to his home of the past four years. Carlos Bacca performed a master class on what a striker does for a living.

Overall, and even with Sevilla’s red card and an ample advantage, the Yellow Submarine continued to opt for a counter-attack style of play that produced the desired outcomes. After the match finished, the score showed a 4-0 win that shows Villarreal perhaps did not earn the kind of victory that was announced, and confirms that a few players are in amazing form at the moment–today especially, Sergio Asenjo, and Gerard Moreno.

The former keeps putting Emery in a bit of a pickle by having to pick Rulli for the Europa League final, when Sergio is performing amazing in Liga; the latter, with another goal that keeps him plugged in–three goals in the past three La Liga matches, and 23 goals in 32 matches this season in the competition. Gerard Moreno is officially, and has been for a while now, a world-class striker who can very well match up to Cavani and his Manchester United.

However, yesterday belonged to someone else. Special mention to Carlos Bacca, an example of someone who has amazing talent, but also knows how to be a leader in the locker, and out on the pitch when given the opportunity. Today, he scored three goals, all different, and showed he still has it. What’s more, he showed he can be a very good super-sub in a match as important as the one in Poland in two weeks. 

A final is a matter of taking advantage of specific moments, and Bacca could very well do that if given a chance and if the match requires it.

The 34 year old is looking at options for the summer, one of them being Boca Juniors in Argentina, but that does not mean he lacks concentration when he is needed. He ended a crucial match with a hat-trick, and one goal away from double digits this season. 

Bacca spoke after the match and admitted he was “Happy. In this difficult moment for me, this gives me happiness, to me and my family. I’ve been through two hard weeks–I lost a family member, my dad tested positive two weeks ago, my sister, too. I kept it inside, I don’t think anyone in the team knew this.”

The last great news for the local team comes in the shape of 5,000 fans of Villarreal, but this time not cardboard cut-outs that have “lived” at La Ceramica for over a year, but fans in the flesh, who came to the stadium for the first time since early 2020. 

The fans were welcomed back into La Ceramica for the first time in over 400 days, and the team definitely felt its support and warmth through most of the match. There were some moments where the vibe was a bit sterile, but that also has to do with thousands of fans who still need to get into the flow of things–just like a team does in pre-season. 

We’ll all get there. For now, three golden points, and now, the aim is to put pressure on Real Sociedad and Betis in the last game of the season against a certain Real Madrid, and next, to look at Poland in a match that will happen 72 hours afterwards–since La Liga declined the club’s request to play on Saturday. As Fernando Roig Negueroles admitted, La Liga told him the change in day would not be happening to not conflict with the Eurovision song contest. 

You read right. 

The best: The team showed it has players in form beyond the starting eleven, and that could be crucial in the final. Bacca punched his ticket as a supersub for Poland.The worst: The first 20 minutes were not good defensively, and so many chances against Cavani or Fernandes will not end well.

The worst: The first 20 minutes were not good defensively, and so many chances against Cavani or Fernandes will not end well. 

Valladolid 0-2 Villarreal: With a big-club win, Villarreal takes Pucela and three vital points

A serious and laser-focused Villarreal took home a victory out of a difficult stadium, both historically for the Yellow Submarine, and also taking into account the home team’s current circumstances, yesterday at Valladolid. 

Sergio’s men needed to at least retain a point to keep in the better side of a relegation battle that gets tighter by the week, but Villarreal’s serenity to navigate the match’s difficult moments, and his ability to capitalize when the tide turned in its favor prevented that.

Villarreal fielded its usual starting eleven, bar Moi Gomez coming in for Chukwueze, injured, and Peña on the right for Foyth, with the same luck.

A good start and a scare

Villarreal managed the first 30 minutes pretty efficiently, keeping the ball and attempting to thread together a play that would break Valladolid’s defense, without Kiko Olivas from the start (who came from Villarreal’s youth system), but still with a solid network of defenders and defensive midfielders ready to destroy.

So much so, that local team’s Yamiq, with a dangerous, shin-high, flat-footed tackle on Moreno, saw a yellow card that will make him miss the next vital match away to Real Sociedad this weekend. The tackle was absolutely terrifying to watch to any Villarreal fans, as a Moreno injury for two weeks could have meant the star of the team would have missed the Europa League final.

Villarreal’s light went out for the rest of the first half after that tackle, and Valladolid actually had a few chances through Weissman, good on the movements the entire match, but unable to make a chance stick. The striker born in Israel has scored six goals this season, and at this point is playing because Sergio doesn’t really have any other pure strikers.

A second half to show intent, and a record broken

Villarreal came out in the second half ready to ask hard questions of Valladolid’s back-four, and after Emery took off Alcacer to bring Yeremy Pino, as the striker just seemed off yesterday (he often does), the 18 year old helped jolt his team back into focus. 

Villarreal seemed more vertical, chances starting to come, and 20 minutes into the first half, Pau Torres, through a long pass over the local defense, enabled Moreno, who while getting grabbed, shoved and pressured, still managed his signature move to receive with his back to goal, pivot from the outside in, and shoot, low and hard. Roberto couldn’t do much, and with that goal, Villarreal was again in the fight for the Top 6.

The goal also meant that Gerard Moreno is now the top scorer for Villarreal in La Liga–ever. 55 goals means he is one over Giuseppe Rossi and Diego Forlan, both with 54. Good company for the Catalan striker.

Capoue to finish things up

One would think that Moreno’s goal would have pushed Valladolid to go for it and try to get a point back, but Sergio’s men showed why they have won one match in the last 19, and presented no alternatives to put up a fight. Asenjo only made two saves in the entire match.

What’s more, towards the end of the 90 minutes, and with time running out, Manu Trigueros assisted for the 7th time this season, and Capoue, with a calm and low show to the near post, beat Roberto again to certify the win, and score his first goal for the club. 

Great news for a player who has been vital since Coquelin’s injury, and who actually will not be able to play against Sevilla this weekend, as two minutes before his goal, got his fifth yellow card. Emery is hoping Coquelin will recover in time.

What this means for the Top 6 fight

The week was a good one for Villarreal’s intentions to finish Top 6 and secure a Europa League spot (7th place gets Conference League). The club is still seventh with 55 points, but Betis, tied with the Yellow Submarine (but with better head-to-head), and Real Sociedad, a point ahead and in fifth position, await.

For Valladolid, the Pucelanos sit in relegation spots, and two points away from survival. The last two matches are dire: Real Sociedad away, and Atletico Madrid, at home. 

Luckily, the next two matches, even though they are high-caliber, will also be, in theory, not dig-in, get-your-claws-out relegation contenders–Sevilla at home, and Real Madrid away. Hopefully that means no out-of-order tackles, and no injuries for the final in Poland.

Villarreal should be able to play his brand of soccer, try to get a win out of a Sevilla that doesn’t play to win the title anymore (but wants to finish third for Spanish Supercup reasons), and see if there is a chance to steal a point at the Bernabeu.

Lo bueno: Moreno is the top scorer for the club in La Liga, and is three goals away from breaking the record as well in all competitions. Here’s hoping that happens with a Europa League final hat-trick!

Lo malo: I like Peña, but he made some clear mistakes and gave the ball to the opposition in his own half. Can’t happen in Gdansk if he plays.

Villarreal 2-4 Celta de Vigo: “Surreal.” Villarreal suffers an atrocious referee performance against Celta de Vigo, but some good news dribble through

In what was one of the most strange performances byCatalan referee Medie Jimenez, Villarreal lost at home to a fresher, but extremely favored by the performance of the referee, Celta de Vigo. The gallegos simply had to focus on their fluid, fast-paced style of play while Villarreal dipped in and out of consciousness as, wrong call after wrong call, the odds kept stacking against the locals. 

Personally, I refuse to give this atrocious referee performance more of a spotlight, so I will just make a couple of points and move on. I will just kindly say that this professional should probably take a La Liga break until the end of the season. There is way too much on the line for all teams involved for someone to come and potentially destroy a team’s entire season. 

If there had been a crowd in Vila-real today, Medie Jimenez would have had to leave escorted by the stadium’s security. If this happens with a team fighting for survival in La Liga, things could get ugly. 

As Sergio Asenjo shared in the post-match press conference and in social media, the decisions were “surreal.” In a nutshell, a Celta goal was given when an obvious foul on Trigueros should have had it called off. VAR caught the play, where Nolito literally grabbed Trigueros leg with his hand, and the referee went to look, but did not call anything. 

Minutes later, a head-to-head collision between Asenjo and a Celta player was deemed by the referee as a penalty on the goalkeeper. Everyone who plays soccer knows the goalkeeper needs to be protected in the box. No luck today. 1-2, and after a soft penalty committed by Capoue, the score looked 1-3, and Villarreal players went to their lockers shaking their heads and absolutely shocked. Emery sunk back on his chair and smiled.  

The second half was an attempt at getting the flow back by Villarreal, and there were times where they were able to forget about the first 45 minutes and a referee who told the bench he would have “No problem sending every player off,” but the damage was done. 

There is some PTSD that will spill into the next match, though–in the first half, both Mario Gaspar and Rulli got sent off for talking about the performance of Meide Jimenez (they were on the bench). Raul Albiol also got a yellow card in halftime, for the same reason. 

There are times where not-being-Real Madrid-or-Barcelona means very clear, absolute truths. One of them is that if something as blatant as what happened yesterday happens to a team that isn’t one of those two, nothing really comes of it. If Los Blancos or Cules had gone through what Villarreal went through yesterday, Medie Jimenez would not have refereed a match for a while. The press would have talked about this for days on end.  

However, and because things are what they are, the best course of action for us as Villarreal fans is to focus on what we can control. It is almost an exercise in meditation. With that in mind, we will wish the best to both Celta and the referees, and we will move on. There is nothing else to do really. 

Serenity now. Poland in 16 days.

Let’s look at the positives. To me, two silver linings stand out: Peña’s performance, and Gerard Moreno’s goal. 

The right back is, well, back! Peña had a great performance against Celta yesterday, and what is more important, looked good with still over two weeks to go until the final in Gdansk. This makes me, and should make you, feel really good about May 26th. 

If Peña keeps his form up and gets his fitness levels where they need to be, we will almost not miss Foyth. That being said, I still hope the Argentinean makes it to the end of the month, as I trust him more to show up in a match of this calibre–and he deserves this final after a good year.

The second bit of news for us is that Moreno scored again. I mentioned this a few days ago, but it is crucial that the striker get his confidence up leading to the match-up against Cavani and Manchester United. Moreno scored his 21st goal of the season in La Liga yesterday, and that’s music to my ears. 

Here’s hoping that Thursday’s match against Valladolid sees more action from both Peña, Moreno, and we keep shaping things up for that battle against the Red Devils. 

That’s the good bits. This season, and with the month we have ahead of us, there is no reason to focus on any of the bad ones. Stay zen.

Serenity now. Poland in 16 days.

Villarreal 1-0 Getafe: A key victory not to be swept under the rug: Villarreal earns the privilege to think only about London

On Sunday, at a match plagued with non-starting players and with the back of its mind in London, Villarreal earned three key points that do two things: the club pushes itself back to the Top 6 of La Liga, which gives the Yellow Submarine rights to be in the path to play in Europe next year, and two, to be able to truly forget about the domestic competition and focus in the second leg of the Europa League semi final against Arsenal. The Gunners also beat Newcastle (0-2), but continue to need to win the continental competition to play European soccer next year. 

The match left a lot to be desired, but in true “Cholo Simeone” fashion, Emery made clear that the big match was on Thursday, and that the B team would have to get things done on Sunday. With that in mind, a starting eleven with Asenjo, Mario and Estupiñan in the right and left, and Funes Mori and Pau, who just had to play, on defense was fielded. Capoue, fully recovered, Moi and Parejo manning the midfield, and Samu, Alcacer and Raba, charging the attack. 

In a nutshell, only those who absolutely needed to play did so yesterday, and that meant Pau, Parejo, Chukwueze and Alcacer, with Mario as a potential starter for Thursday due to Foyth’s injury on Thursday. 

The match was and even one, and even though Getafe had its chances, Villarreal proved to be secure out back, and in the second half, Emery’s man did not show any signs to be playing two competitions in May, and made an extra push to go after the match, with Getafe counting the point as a good one.

In those last 15 minutes of the match, Yeremi Pino, who had come out with 20 minutes to prove himself, created a sensational individual effort evading three players with his technique and skill, and beat David Soria to win the match, 

It was Pino’s second goal in the competition, and proof that the young player from the Canary Islands needs more minutes, especially after seeing an odd hour or so of Samu unable to beat his mark and dribbling ad nauseum–much like the last 30 minutes against Arsenal on Thursday. The Nigerian player needs some pressure off him and Yeremi could be a great alternative in specific stages of the match on Thursday. 

Things to note

  • Mario was good in defending duties, but we did not see much when it came to charging up the flank. If the captain is to play in London, we will likely need that. 
  • Gerard Moreno came out at the same time Yermi and Bacca did, and he started opening up the Getafe defense with his movement and the fact that, these days, defenders tend to gravitate towards the Pichichi contender when he comes out into the field. This opened up spaces for Yeremi and Bacca to do what they needed to do.
  • Mario spoke post-match and let the fans know that “It is impossible to be more motivated for Thursday.” The defender wanted everyone to know that “We are going to London convinced to go win the match and get through to the final.”
  • This key win, added to Betis’ tie against Valladolid and Huesca’s unlikely win (1-0) against Real Sociedad means Villarreal is now sixth in La Liga, with 52 points, one point ahead of Betis (7th), and one point behind Real Sociedad (5th). It’s all there for the taking.

Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal: “They came out of here alive:” Arsenal strikes gold in La Ceramica

To those watching the first 30 minutes of the Villarreal-Arsenal semifinal first leg yesterday, and regardless of the team they supported, the picture was pretty clear: Villarreal was leading 2-0, and they were the more incisive team on the pitch, while Arsenal tried to find a way in, while retaining possession with a strikerless tactic that was not working.

Villarreal’s fanbase spread out throughout the 4 miles that go from the training grounds of Miralcamp to La Ceramica to cheer, support, scream and shout, with the players themselves chanting and cheering back from inside the bus; and it seemed as though the players took that energy into the pitch.

Back to the field, the first half ended with a really good feeling for Emery and his players–up by two goals, at home, and Arsenal unable to do anything about it. I feel as though that was the first problem, though–Unai saw an opportunity to shut down the match and go to the Emirates Stadium with a two-goal lead and no away goals to have to respond to. Out went Alcacer, and in went Coquelin.

Five minutes into the second half, you could tell the problem was obvious: Arsenal changed a few things, went up the pitch, and Villarreal welcomed the pressure. However, Ceballos felt like throwing us a bone, and after two hard tackles in ten minutes, the Spaniard was handed a red card.

This was the best moment for Villarreal in the match: up 2-0, and playing against ten. Just at that moment, Gerard Moreno, lethargic and less sharp than usual, found a one-on-one chance with Leno, and the german goalkeeper performed one of the saves of the tournament to keep his team in it.

Then came the penalty. Manu Trigueros very obviously stepped away as Bukayo Saka attempted to charge into the box, extended his leg, actually was the one who hit the midfielder, and the penalty was called. Even after VAR check, the call stood.

My main concern here is not that this was called as a penalty–it happens all the time. However, it is usually less blatant than this one was; Saka was obvious in his effort to make contact. Portuguese referee Artur Soares, who seemed determined to be the protagonist, blindly followed the advice of a machine that basically told him “there was contact.” Anyone who has played soccer knows that was not a penalty–but the damage was done.

Rulli couldn’t do anything, Pepe scored, and the tides turned. Shortly afterwards, Capoue slipped while attempting a tackle, and managed two things: getting injured, and getting sent off. With 10v10 on the pitch, and Arsenal in the upswing, things were not looking good for the Yellow Submarine.

Aubameyang came in for barely 10 mintues and had a clear chance to tie the match, forcing Rulli to make the only save of his night, but also making clear to Villarreal that the second leg will be much, much harder to defend. In the end, both teams seemed okay letting it be and agreeing to finish things off in seven days.

Overall, this was a huge opportunity for Villarreal to finally claim a spot in the final. While the score would not have been as certified as the Manchester United thrashing of Roma 6-2 at Old Traffort, a 2-0 or 3-0 result would have been very hard to climb for a very irregular Arsenal. Now, and in true Yellow Submarine nature, the team will have to suffer if they want to play in the final.

Other bits

  • Local newspaper Mediterraneo said the best player was Foyth, and I agree. He was superb up the right flank, and strong in defense, although his one mistake almost cost Villarreal a penalty (thank you this time, VAR). He did get injured and is expected to miss the second leg though, so Mario will have to step up. He’s done it before–he’s in the top five of Villarreal players with the most European matches, over 50.
  • Mediterraneo also called Rulli “Heart-attck inducing,”, and once again, I agree. He lingers on the ball so much, sometimes you wonder if he is an outfield player. I understand he is trying to draw tyhe striker in so he can free up the defender to start the play, but he needs to see the play and make the pass faster.
  • President Fernando Roig flat out said that “It was not a penalty,” while Manu Trigueros mentioned post-match that “They got out of here alive.”
  • Emery on his end was direct about the penalty call: “Why didn’t VAR come in? I can’t understand it. I thought it was a penalty since they made the call, but when I saw it.”
  • And Bukayo Saka was the odd quote of the day: “We showed we were better than they were.” Interesting comment for a first half with no shots on goal and a penalty goal.