Villarreal will face Arsenal tomorrow night still reeling from their worst 90 minutes of the season and the loss of one of their best players – Spain international winger Santi Cazorla, whose fractured fibula rules him out for the rest of the season. In need of a straightforward three points, sealed early enough in the game to allow him to take off his most important players, coach Manuel Pellegrini looked on in horror as Cazorla was carried off and Robert Pires sent off.
The nine players that remained – they had already made three substitutions – were then given a half-hour runaround by a rampant Almeria who had long since cruised into a 3-0 lead.
"I'm very sad because now I miss out on the most important part of the season," said Cazorla. "It was an accident, I fell badly and I immediately heard a crunch and knew that something was very wrong." The Spain winger's enforced absence removes any doubt over whether former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires will start against his old side. Pires usually struggles to play twice in three days so it was perhaps a blessing in disguise that he got himself sent off on the hour for a second yellow card.
Perhaps even more worrying for Pellegrini than the absence of Cazorla is the form of his defence. Without Uruguayan international Diego Godin, rested on the bench, they were a shambles, with right-back Javi Venta given a torrid time by Albert Crusat.
Alvaro Negredo headed in the first from a Crusat cross on seven minutes and Pablo Piatti made it two on twenty minutes before Mane wrapped-up the rout on 35 minutes. Villarreal keeper Diego Lopez kept the score down with several fine stops and coach Pellegrini made three substitutions in the first quarter-hour of the second half, no doubt thinking 'well, what's the worst that can happen?' – cue Pires' red card and Cazorla's injury.
"We were missing in action," said Pellegrini. "It's the same as the performance before we had to play Manchester United in the group stages. The team did not turn up and Almeria took full advantage. It was all over when they went 3-0 up, it was even more all over when Pires was sent off and even more all over when Cazorla got injured!" The "Yellow Submarine" will at least welcome back captain Marcos Senna against Arsenal.
The defeat left them 24 points behind leaders Barcelona at the top. Pep Guardiola's side beat Valladolid with Samuel Eto'o scoring the only goal of the game – his 26th of the season. With nine games left Juande Ramos' Real Madrid are still six points behind after they beat Malaga 1-0. The former Spurs manager has now won 13 of 14 league matches he has overseen – a record that at most clubs might be enough to earn a new contract. For as long as Barcelona keep winning the best it will get him is a better class of suitor when his current deal runs out at the end of the season.
*Barça's opponents in the Champions League on Wednesday, Bayern Munich, were crushed 5-1 by VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday. Doubles from strikers Grafite and Edin Dzeko sent the victors top of the Bundesliga on goal difference. Wolfsburg tore apart a fragile Bayern defence with four goals in 14 minutes in the second half to record their eighth consecutive win. Bayern drop to fourth on 48 points, three off the top with eight games left.