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Alcaraz strikes, Pucela earn a point





Rubén Alcaraz 15’


Gerard Moreno 54’

A poor second half saw Real Valladolid relinquish a hard-earned lead to settle for a point against Villarreal in a match where Sandro squandered an opportunity to double their advantage.

Rubén Alcaraz’s well-taken opener after quarter of an hour put Pucela ahead, and they continued to press their opponents in a confident first half display. However, in the second period of play, the tides turned and Villarreal scratched out the equaliser in somewhat controversial circumstances.

After their victory in Mallorca last weekend, manager Sergio González made only one change to his starting line-up. Striker Sergi Guardiola, who provided the assist for Enes Ünal’s winner at Son Moix, did not feature in the match day squad due to discomfort in his right abductor and he made way for Sandro. On the bench, there was the much-anticipated selection of new signing Hatem Ben Arfa, alongside young striker Miguel de la Fuente as cover in Guardiola’s absence.

Javi Calleja’s Villarreal were looking to put the disappointment of their midweek Copa del Rey exit at the hands of Segunda outfit Mirandés behind them. Having changed his line-up for the 4-2 loss, the Villarreal manager reverted back to the same starting eleven which won at home to Osasuna the previous week. Eight-goal Gerard Moreno started up front alongside marquee signing Paco Alcácer, while the continued inclusion of Ramiro Funes Mori at centre-back was as a result of Pau Torres being injured.

Goalscorer Rubén Alcaraz battles for possession with Villarreal's Vicente Iborra and Raúl Albiol (Image: Sports Findings)

It was the hosts who started the brightest of the two in the opening exchanges. Óscar Plano flashed a ball across the box intended for Sandro inside two minutes, but it was marginally too far in front of the striker. At the other end, Gerard controlled a headed clearance on his chest on the edge of the box, but his effort on goal lacked venom and was gathered cleanly by Jordi Masip.

The clock had not reached ten minutes when Ünal looked to have put Pucela ahead, but the flag was raised for offside. Toni Villa plowed down the left-hand side before moving the ball out to the overlapping Raúl Carnero. The left-back sent in a pin-point delivery which was turned in with his first touch by the Turkish striker, but the celebrations were cut short as the assistant referee immediately signalled that he had strayed in front of Funes Mori before deftly touching the ball past Sergio Asenjo.

Enes Ünal sees his touch beat Sergio Asenjo only to be ruled offside (Image: Real Valladolid)

Just five minutes later though, Real Valladolid were in front. As Villarreal moved forward, Ünal tracked back and forced Manuel Trigueros into misplacing a pass which was cut out by Míchel. He linked in with Rubén Alcaraz who, in turn, played it swiftly to Ünal in midfield and the forward strode into Villarreal territory before feeding a neat ball into the path of Sandro out on the right. In a move reminiscent of last week’s game at Mallorca, the ball was delivered from the right and was met on the edge of the box by Alcaraz and the 28-year-old cracked an unstoppable right-footed volley low past Asenjo’s right.

There were calls for handball by Rubén Peña who appeared to chest Míchel’s deep freekick onto his arm and the referee consulted with the video assistant, but – after a short delay – play was allowed to resume.

Alcaraz lashes home the opening goal (Image: Real Valladolid)

Despite going a goal down, Villarreal looked dangerous. A quick counter-attack saw January acquisition Alcácer crack a shot which rebounded off the frame of Masip’s goal, but the assistant’s flag was raised. However, it demonstrated the visitors’ ability to turn defence into attack and rapidly fashion an opportunity.

As the half-hour mark approached, a gilt-edged chance to extend the lead fell to Sandro. A slack pass across the back line from Funes Mori was intercepted by the striker and he bore down on goal. Asenjo loomed large in his box and Sandro picked the wrong option as he tried to bend the ball round the ex-Real Valladolid, but saw it go agonisingly wide.

This was the last of the chances for either side, and the teams headed into the break with the blanquivioletas ahead courtesy of Alcaraz’s sublime strike.

In the second period, Villarreal immediately settled into the match. Funes Mori headed down a lofted freekick from Alcaraz and Santi Cazorla collected the ball just outside the penalty arc. The little midfielder showed good strength to combat some robust challenges as he turned and weaved through a host of Pucela players. He touched the ball onto Trigueros who fed it first time to Gerard on the left touchline. He flighted in a delivery towards Alcácer, which was touched on fortuitously by the outstretched Kiko Olivas and the striker closed in on goal. However, a well-timed challenge from Javi Moyano, with Mohammed Salisu in close attendance, ensured he was unable to get a shot away.

Less than ten minutes after the restart, Calleja’s side were back on level terms. Cazorla took a short corner to Moi Gómez who’s cross was blocked by the chest of Míchel. It fell back to Cazorla and his delivery into the crowded area was knocked down by the head of Vicente Iborra into the path of Gerard at the back post. The striker instantly turned the ball into the net, but the referee signalled for a foul in the build-up; alleging that Iborra had used an arm across Moyano’s head to gain an advantage. The visitors surrounded the referee to appeal and the matter was referred to VAR. Upon closer inspection, Moyano had indeed received a arm to the head but it was that of his team-mate Kiko Olivas as the duo had jumped in tandem to try and crowd out Iborra. After a delay of some minutes, the referee returned from the screen to signal that the goal was valid and Gerard had claimed his ninth of the season to draw his side equal.

Players of both sides wait expectantly as the referee consults the VAR screen following Gerard's equaliser (Image: Real Valladolid)

The game became a somewhat scrappy affair in the immediate aftermath of the equalising goal. Moyano and Toni Villa received cautions for disputing the decision, and Iborra was yellow carded for a clumsy challenge on Plano.

Very much in the ascendency, Villarreal pressed for the go-ahead goal. There were chances for Iborra and Alcácer in quick succession, but neither could hit the target.

Gerard crashes the equaliser into the net from close range (Image: Vicente Iborra Instagram)

On 65 minutes, Sergio replaced Toni Villa with Pablo Hervías. The latter took up position on the right flank, and Plano switched to the left. A further five minutes later, Sandro made way for Miguel. His final change was to introduce Ben Arfa in place of Plano on 78 minutes, in an attempt to inject some further urgency into the attacking play. The big-name capture of the winter transfer window for Pucela showed his lack of match-sharpness in his initial moments, being robbed of possession on occasions, but did display some neat touches as the match progressed.

Hatem Ben Arfa saw his first action as a Real Valladolid player (Image: Real Valladolid)

The final minutes of the game saw sustained build-up play by Real Valladolid, but lacking in final quality as has so often been the case. Alcaraz attempted to curl an angled shot past Asenjo but if drifted wide of the ‘keeper’s left-hand post. In stoppage time, he had another opportunity with a free-kick but could not get it to dip sufficiently after clearing the wall. The final chance fell to Salisu with a header in the 96th minute but the Ghanaian defender guided it past the right post.

The final whistle was met with applause but a tinge of disappointment too, that Pucela had surrendered the lead and had been unable to capitalise on a very positive first half. In contrast, the second period had seen the visitors enjoy the bulk of possession which was rewarded with their goal. However, in comparison to the last time the sides had pitted their wits, this was an arguably better performance by Real Valladolid. The dropped point – and Alavés winning at home to Eibar in the Friday night match – saw Real Valladolid drop one place to 15th. They move forward and head south to Andalucia to face-off against Granada on Saturday who lie four points ahead in tenth.

REAL VALLADOLID (4-4-2): Jordi Masip; Raúl Carnero, Mohammed Salisu, Kiko Olivas, Javi Moyano (Capt.), Toni Villa (Pablo Hervías 65’), Rubén Alcaraz, Míchel, Óscar Plano (Hatem Ben Arfa 78’), Enes Ünal, Sandro (Miguel 70’).

Substitutes unused: Samu Pérez; Javi Sánchez, Antoñito, Fede San Emeterio.

VILLARREAL (4-3-3): Sergio Asenjo; Rubén Peña, Ramiro Funes Mori, Raúl Albiol, Mario Gaspar, Santi Cazorla, Vicente Iborra, Manu Trigueros, Moi Gómez (Javier Ontiveros 84’), Paco Alcácer (Samuel Chukwueze 71’), Gerard Moreno.

Substitutes unused: Andrés Fernández; Xavi Quintillà, Sofian Chakla, Carlos Bacca, Fer Niño.

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