Villarreal traveled north to Barcelona on Sunday to play the city’s second team, and could not have started the match with better news than what they saw on the scoreboard: Osasuna 1-0 Real Madrid. The window of opportunity was gaping, and they had an obligation to crash through it. There wouldn’t be many more chances like this throughout the season.
Villarreal were put a bit on the back foot early, but did not look lost, more merely biding their time as the match began. Villarreal fans were surely happy to see Diego Lopez come out strongly on three minutes to handle a dangerous cross, and otherwise for the first few minutes, the match was a fast-paced back-and-forth, with some good passes, but the defenses coming up solid in each side’s final third.
In the 6th minute, Villarreal had its collective head in its collective hands, as somehow off a beautiful headed pass following a corner, Gonzalo, from inside the Espanyol keeper’s six-yard box managed to shoot directly over the goal. That was the type of ball that every gradeschooler in the world would probably put at least on target – it takes a pro to miss those sometimes!
For those watching the change at rightback following Angel’s season-ending injury, Mario made a statement early in the match. Every time the ball came into the final third on his side of the field, he was there with a quick step to break up the action and win possession. Garrido, hopefully, was taking notes.
Villarreal were given a golden opportunity in the 14th minute when Duscher, the man with perhaps the worst haircut in the world, brutally took Santi down from behind on a break from Villarreal. The free kick from 25 yards was not productive, though, and Villarreal continued to feel some early frustration.
For most of the first half, Espanyol seemed to always have a couple of defenders on top of Rossi when he saw the ball, and he was definitively shut down for the beginning minutes of the match. His first real chance of the match came on 19 minutes, after some very high pressure from Villarreal’s attacking force led to a steal from Cani and a mess in front of goal, eventually sent out for a corner.
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