Villarreal 1-0 Levante: Vietto scores again as Villarreal remain in the hunt for Europe
Villarreal ran out 2-0 winners over Levante earlier in the season, but it was a much tougher task this time.

There was an emotional atmosphere surrounding at El Madrigal before the game. Villarreal had not long announced that a fee had been agreed with Arsenal for the sale of Gabriel Paulista. The defender was in the stands watching the match, but prior to kick-off he was presented with a model ‘Yellow Submarine’ and an opportunity to say his goodbyes to both the fans and players at El Madrigal.

The game started with Levante on the front foot. Villarreal were penned in their own half for most of the opening period. Levante midfielder, Andreas Ivanschitz had the first opportunity. His header was parried by Asenjo back into his path, but he was unable to direct the rebound on goal.

Levante gradually abandoned their high pressing and went back to a more direct approach. This allowed Marcelino's side to gain a foothold in the game and they began to knock the ball around with a higher tempo and fluidity. Lucas Alcaraz' side were staying compact at the back as Villarreal struggled to create any clear-cut chances.

The best opportunity of the opening 15 minutes fell to the visitors. Jose Morales got forward on the overlap and sent in an inch-perfect cross to Barral. The striker was able to get a good connection on the header, but was unable to find the target.

Villarreal saw the potential danger and instantly responded. Their first breakthrough came in the 19th minute. Jonathan Dos Santos whipped in a hefty cross for Nigerian striker Uche, although his glancing header flew past the wrong side of the post. 

Chances then came thick and fast for the hosts as they continued to dominate possession. Moi Gomez struck just wide and shortly afterwards Mariño executed an excellent save to prevent Luciano Vietto from scoring his 12th goal of the season.

Levante continued to defend deep inside their own half and Marcelino's men were left in bewilderment, once again they struggled to break down the visitors. Half-time was looming and the visitors would have headed into the interval 1-0 up, had it not been for  Víctor Ruíz. Ivanschitz sent in a corner and Barral made a good connection with his header, but Ruíz was on the line and managed to prevent the goal, before Asenjo finally cleared the danger.

The second half started with a change of personnel for Levante. Makeshift right-back Morales was replaced by the more natural Karabelas. Alcaraz was also seeking a more balanced performance by his side in the second half and they attempted to bring that balance during the opening exchanges after the interval.

Villarreal right-back Mario then attempted to catch Mariño off guard. He got to the byline with ease and then attempted an audacious shot from an acute angle. It came to no avail, however, as Mariño was equal to the effort. The game was starting to open up and just moments later Barral found himself in space at the other end. He had a number of options but Musacchio capitalised on his indecisiveness and defended the attack with relative ease.

The deadlock was broken in the 56th minute. Manu Trigueros had a shot from distance and Mariño fumbled the save back into the danger zone. Vietto reacted the quickest and smashed the ball home from close range for his 12th of the season. The goal certainly had an element of luck for Villarreal, but there was nothing lucky about Vietto's finish, which was a true poacher's goal.

Vietto's strike partner, Uche attempted to double the host's lead shortly after the hour mark. He followed Trigueros' example in striking from distance, hoping that Mariño would make another costly error, but the 'keeper tipped his effort wide for a corner.

Just minutes later, Marcelino's side had another glorious opportunity. Moi Gómez beat two defenders with some dazzling footwork but was unable to finish with the same precision, curling it above the crossbar.

Levante were becoming more adventurous in their search for an equaliser. Alcaraz threw on Nabil El Zhar, attempting to have more of an attacking presence. Marcelino duly combated this by bringing on Rukavina, who brought a more defensive mindset and tightened up the midfield.

During the changes, Jonathan moved inside to take up a more central position, looking to link up with his brother, Giovani. Levante continued to push for a draw yet Asenjo had other ideas, he dealt with a dangerous cross from Iván López before Casadesús hit a rather hopeful attempt that went high and wide.

Camarasa then went for a blockbuster goal as he hit a rocket out of nowhere. It would have been a fitting goal to salvage a draw for the visitors, but it fractionally drifted past the post.

The game headed into the last ten minutes and it remained the open contest it had been for the whole second-half. Levante were throwing men forward, desperate to come away from El Madrigal, they left wide open spaces for the hosts to exploit.

The feeling of consternation overwhelmed the home fans as the fourth official displayed four minutes of added time, given there had been few stoppages to prevent the game flowing. Levante also grew frustrated as they battled for an equaliser in the dying moments of the game.

The full-time whistle blew and the crowd was filled with relief. Despite Alcaraz' best efforts, his side left El Madrigal with nothing to show for it apart from yet another loss as they remain in the relegation zone. Villarreal didn't have the best of games, either. It was clear to see that they were lacking some of their usual intensity, but they remain in the hunt for European football with another valuable three points.

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