After a busy evening, I settled down to watch the second half of Hércules CF-Villarreal – the concluding fixture for matchday seven of the La Liga season.
Hércules CF took a narrow lead into the second half, goals from David Trezeguet and Nelson Valdez blunted by Spain international Joan Capdevila’s brief levelling of the tie.
But a second yellow card for Trezeguet just moments after regaining the lead for last season’s Segunda División champions saw Hércules reduced to ten men for the rest of the game.
Therefore, coach Esteban Vigo set his side out in a 4-4-1 formation for the next batch of 45 minutes, and made a change in midfield by bringing on Francisco Rufete for Tote.
Villarreal instantly monopolised possession in the second half, and their fluid use of midfielders and attackers meant they had five ball-players-cum-bobbers floating in the home side’s half, plus overlapping full-backs.
With the full-backs offering width, Cani and Cazorla were effectively playing more infield roles. As a result of this and the non-stop movement of both strikers, Hércules kept their banks narrow and high.
With Cani and Cazorla suffocated and pressed heavily in a channel often nearer to the halfway line than Juan Calatayud’s goal, their possession appeared futile.
However, it was patient, and constant use of the full-backs meant the Hércules midfield had to work overtime in closing down the man on the ball with the defence staying tight.
Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar realised dropping into the quagmire wasn’t productive, so the pair began facing their defensive counterparts and responded positively to crosses lofted into the box.
Juan Carlos Garrido’s side were still willing to try and break down the high Hércules line through the centre though, and when speculative shots weren’t shanked over the bar, Villarreal found chinks through which to breach the Herculanos wall.
With the two banks of four so on top of one another, Vigo’s defence were incapable of knowing when to filter back, and how to do it as a unit.
Resultantly, the offside trap was erratic and ineffectual. In the 63rd minute, Villarreal got their equalizer by twice penetrating the panicky Hércules defence – first winning a corner, and then using the second ball from its delivery to feed Borja Valero.
With Villarreal knowing a win lifted them above Real Madrid and into top spot, they continued attacking mid-table Hércules with all guns blazing.
Naturally, this left the Yellow Submarines open at the back, and the home side so nearly took all three points when Royston Drenthe was fed through one-on-one with Diego Lopez, only to fluff his lines.
Drenthe was outstanding throughout the game – setting up his side’s goals, nullifying Villarreal’s right-sided attacking threat through indefatigable pressing, and offering a great counter-attacking outlet.
Farcically, Villarreal were reduced to nine men in the closing stages. Former West Brom man Valero saw red after emulating Trezeguet and collecting a silly second yellow, while Mateo Musacchio was given his marching orders after flailing an elbow.
A thoroughly entertaining half of football then, despite one team bossing the ball and the other playing a life-sapping system. The point takes Villarreal into second spot, while Hércules hover nicely in tenth.