BY: ALLEN DODSON
Juan Carlos Garrido said he hoped the Copa del Rey matchup between Villarreal and Valencia would showcase football in the Valencian Community. This game did that, but not in the way anyone could have expected. Valencia abandoned their defensive 4-5-1 and went for an attacking 3-4-3 with Soldado in the middle flanked by Mata and Joaquin, clearly hoping to grab an early precious away goal. From the start Villarreal looked unsure of themselves; Catala (who surprisingly started instead of Mussachio) gave away a needless corner, and though nothing came of it, Valencia scored on their next attack. Banega’s shot from outside the area seemed to confuse Juan Carlos–his attempt to parry the low shot failed miserably and the ball crept over the line.
That goal seemed to deflate the yellow squad, as well as their supporters. Valencia played confidently, with Bruno, Maduro, Banega, and Mathieu dominating midfield and consistently playing the ball forward to their front line in dangerous positions. As for Villarreal, attacks were few; Borja and Rossi seemed to be the only ones touching the ball in the Valencia half of the field. And in the 23rd minute Valencia struck again, central defenders Catala and Gonzalo failing to deal with a high ball while Soldado controlled it and finished clinically. Soldado and Mata both had chances to make it 3-0, while on the few occasions when Rossi or Ruben had the ball in a dangerous space, the other failed to understand the move and provide another attacking option.
At the half, with Valencia ahead by two and Villarreal finding it difficult to string two passes together, one would have been forgiven for suggesting Garrido give up this match as a lost cause.
Whatever was said to the Villarreal players at the break, it had immediate effect. Within a minute of the restart Rossi broke down the left, crossed perfectly and Santi smashed the ball into the net. The comeback had begun, and astonishingly Villarreal’s next attack resulted in a penalty–Ruben tripped by Stankevicius in the area–and Rossi promptly dispatched the kick to level the score.
Valencia looked if anything more shaken than Villarreal had in the first half, and nearly gave up a third goal when Cani’s ball skimmed across the face of goal, just missing both Rossi and Ruben as they tried to touch it into the open net. By now Emery had made his first substitution, bringing on Topal for Banega to shore up the defense and switch to four defenders at the back.
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