|Villarreal (2)||Valencia (0)|
|Paco Alcacer 14′|
Gerard Moreno 44′
The 51st regional Derby pitting 6th vs 8th showed who was bona fide European contender and who were pretenders like the cardboard cut-outs filling the stands.
Valencia’s Champions League hopes shattered like cheap pottery in the Ceramica Stadium under 28 deg C heat, though there’s still a shard of hope to make the Europa League, a competition we made the semis in last season.
The Yellow Submarines torpedoed and nosedived confidently as the league’s form team since the restart with 10 points in 4, while Los Che were static, our ideas shallow going forward. The likes of Dani Parejo and Ferran Torres were limited to hopeful crosses to a frontline lacking verve. The on-pitch movement reflective of how the clubs have progressed since Valencia’s 5-1 aggregate sinking of our opponents last season in Europe.
Villarreal, going from strength to strength and emerging battle-ready from the depths of last season’s 14th position in LaLiga. Valencia, sputtering in fits and starts, yet still breathing down the necks of our less-storied neighbours this season, just 2 positions and 2 points shy.
But 2 magical moments in the first half showed an ocean of difference in quality. Valencian Paco Alcacer, once our own with 30 goals in 93 appearances for the Bats, swivelling smartly – in yellow – for a perfect precision-guided finish. Then the explosive Gerard Moreno fired in a rocket just before half-time from a velvet-laced square ball plucked from the sky by the angelic Santi Cazorla.
Both times, the Los Che defence looked like they were keeping a safe social distance from Villarreal’s attackers as they were caught out by passes over the top. The onlooking paper figures showed more dexterity in their seats.
To turn the tide in the second period, Albert Celades brought on the heavy artillery, making the most of the five substitutions allowed since LaLiga’s resumption. On went Goncalo Guedes, Kevin Gameiro and Lee Kang-in, but Valencia simply failed to swamp an organised Villarreal side, managing just 4 shots against 17. That’s 8 winless away games in a row now.
This team just don’t seem to be up for the fight deep in the business end of the season, and Athletic Bilbao, just a point behind, might just relish their trip this weekend to what has been an impregnable Mestalla. Champions League dreams have sailed, and now we’re at least 5 points adrift of the Europa League place with just 6 left to play. There’s a real chance the Mestalla won’t even see continental football in 2021.