MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) shares his thoughts on the second round of La Liga action, as well as pointing us towards his favourite fancies from matchday three.
Captain-less Yellow Submarine leak at the back and impress in attack
You would think having scored five goals in your opening two league games that the mood around any club would be very positive – not at Villarreal. They have indeed scored five goals but, having shipped six against relegation candidates, their supporters must now have the same sinking feeling that they could very well be in for another long season of suffering. It’s at least great for us neutrals!
The Yellow Submarine flew out of the blocks early against Levante last Friday night and, in all honesty, could have been 5-0 up at the interval but for the wastefulness of Karl Toko Ekambi and co.
Levante started the game like they were two goals down with 20 minutes remaining in the second leg of cup tie and Villarreal sliced through them at will every time one of the hosts’ kamikaze attacking efforts broke down. As 11pm approached, the locals at the Estadio Ciutat de Valencia must have been chewing on their late-night ham bocadillo in disgust at how badly they had played, but also in confusion as to how in the name of god they were actually still in the game.
An hour later we were all collectively scratching our heads as Levante celebrated their first win of the season to prove that when it comes Levante and Villarreal, your guess is as good as mine.
In a five-minute window of frenzied disarray, Villarreal conceded two penalties, and were unable to recover from the quick double blow. After conceding the equaliser, instead of trying to get the ball into the opposition territory to relieve some pressure, they found themselves clowning around in their own box, trying to work an intricate move out from the back.
As Levante pressed high, goalkeeper Andres Fernandez deemed it a good idea to play a short kick out to his nearby defender. Under immediate pressure, the ball was hastily played back to Fernandez whose heavy first touch sent him scurrying to regain the ball and his second almost chopped Roger Martí in half – penalty.
This all points to what we already knew: this Villarreal team lacks leaders and that bit of guile or steel to ride those five-minute storms. I don’t care what a team’s philosophy or style of play is; when you are on the ropes you need to gather yourself, not invite even more pressure.
In this instance, Fernandez had to boot the ball as far as he could and get his men to push higher up, but there was nobody on the field to rally the troops or to go down with an “injury” to give his team a bit of respite. Levante are at their best when a game is essentially a bit mad and Villarreal were naïve enough to play into their hand instead of trying to reassert their superiority.
Having blown a lead on three separate occasions against new boys Granada in week one, and again against Levante, the same questions about Javi Calleja as a coach are beginning to resurface. Therefore, maybe it’s no harm that this weekend one of the big boys come to town, which should help focus the minds a bit more. Judging on the past two weeks, that wouldn’t be very hard.
Villarreal v Real Madrid | Sunday 1st September 2019, 20:00 | ITV
The Yellow Submarine’s record at home to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is very, very strong and based on past form, we should see another improved performance in the Estadio de la Cerámica this weekend. Only once in the last 12 meetings against Spain’s Big Three here have Villarreal failed to score, while suffering defeat only twice in this run.
Eight of these meetings saw both teams find the back of the net while seven would have clicked for Over 2.5 Goals backers. Last season they recorded three draws in these fixtures: 1-1 v Atletico, 2-2 v Madrid and a 4-4 against Ernesto Valverde’s men, so it’s clear they are more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the heavyweights when they visit.
Real Madrid’s last two trips to Villarreal yielded a pair of 2-2 draws, and given the way both teams are defending right now, a three-peat of this result is not out of the question.
Like Calleja, Zinedine Zidane was left to rue thrown-away points last weekend as Valladolid snuck in late on to steal a valuable draw. The Frenchman echoed my Villarreal sentiments in his post-game press conference, saying “We should have booted the ball the f*** out of there,” a pretty cutting verdict on Madrid’s eagerness for a second goal rather than protecting their lead.
Despite the wastefulness in attack against Levante, Villarreal are running along pretty smoothly in this department as Ekambi and Nigerian sensation Samu Chukwueze continue to combine with Gerard Moreno, who slowly – very slowly – seems to be finding his touch again. Santi Cazorla is still pulling the strings and performing at a much higher level than he really should after all he has been through, and Vicente Iborra will always be a threat given his physical presence and ability to time his late runs.
Madrid have a number of injury doubts which should mean another start for Gareth Bale at the Cerámica, the only away stadium he has played at every season since becoming a Galactico. One could argue that some of these injuries could actually help Madrid: instead of Isco in attack we could see Vinicius Jr or Luka Jovic introduced, players who I would view as more of a threat to Villarreal’s brittle defence than the languid Malagueño.
Real struggled to break down a very well-organised Valladolid in the Bernabeu but Zidane’s men should have enough about them to find a way through Calleja’s porous defence.
It should be a very entertaining game, perhaps without the quality of players from previous encounters but when it’s Villarreal v Madrid, I’m going for goals.
Good omens for Atletico
Before their visit to Leganes, Diego Simeone had only managed to win his opening two league games of the season at Atletico Madrid twice: the first time they went on to win the league and reach the Champions League final, the second they again reached the Champions League final.
Another famous season in store for los rojiblancos?
Two away wins, zero goals conceded and joint top of the league. This is not the Sevilla we have come to know but it’s clear that Julen Lopetegui has aimed to deal with their huge player turnover by first making his side difficult to break down as they find their feet in attack. So far so good.
All not well at Valencia
There is a real fear that Valencia are close to a relapse and a return to complete institutional chaos, which would undo a couple of years of fantastic work. Uncertainty off the pitch is visible on it and Valencia were a shadow of themselves as they worryingly limped to defeat against Celta Vigo.
Back to life, back to reality
All three promoted teams were at home last weekend and entered the weekend on a high, having secured a combined seven points in the opening round of fixtures.
Week two was to prove to be a nice big cold bucket of reality with one solitary point to show from the three as Mallorca and Granada both suffered defeat while Osasuna and Eibar played out a truly awful scoreless draw. Honeymoon over.
A “Final” for Betis in the Benito Villamarin this weekend
Marca would, of course, never ever be one to dramatise a situation but that is how they portray the meeting between the only pointless teams in La Liga – Real Betis and Leganes – on Saturday night.
A final in week three. Welcome to Spanish football!
Villarreal v Real Madrid – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (4/5 BetVictor)
Villarreal v Real Madrid – Both Teams To Score and Draw (15/4 BetVictor)
Villarreal v Real Madrid – 2-2 Correct Score (11/1 SkyBet)
Villarreal v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win 3-2 (17/1 BetVictor)
Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.