Giuseppe Rossi, Joan Capdevila, Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla, Nilmar; these are some of the star names for Villarreal, skilled players capable of playing at the highest level and most of whom made up the spine of a team that finished second in La Liga just two seasons ago. Yet these names all found themselves at the bottom of the division just two weeks ago as the Yellow Submarine made a terrible start to the season. It took Villarreal eight games to get a league win this season, that coming in a narrow win versus strugglers Malaga who promptly took Villarreal’s spot at the bottom of the table. A 5 – 0 thrashing of promoted Tenerife, sat in 16th in the division, followed. Confidence is growing around El Madrigal with these results but how did Villarreal, regular competitors in continental competition, get into this position in the first place?
The Villarreal team is very similar to the one that finished 5th last season, and not dissimilar from the one that finished as league runners up two years ago. Villarreal have not sold any key players, in fact their only major sales this summer were Nihat Kahveci and Matias Fernandez, both recognised names but both of whom struggled to get into the first team last year. Their signings have varied with the big name capture of Brazilian international striker Nilmar and the signing of Ivan Marcano, one of the top young defending talents in Spain, signed alongside a few lower division players who coach Ernesto Valverde feels are good enough to play in the top flight.
I wrote yesterday about Atletico Madrid and their awful start to the season, the Spanish top flight has been full of shocks including that these two, who both are practically guaranteed a spot in the top six usually, have been so low down the table. Atletico felt the need to sack their manager in order to improve and get out of their predicament but Villarreal have kept faith with Valverde who is a highly established manager. Two league wins from the last two is promising for Villarreal but there are still issues to be resolved – both wins have come against fellow strugglers with Villarreal yet to beat anyone in the top half of the table, and then there’s the UEFA Cup; anything other than a victory against Lazio tonight will see the Castellon based side crash out of the competition. A far cry from their impressive run to the Champion’s League semi finals just four years ago.
The general feeling in Spain is that Villarreal are too good to go down, or even to be involved in a relegation scrap and that their two recent victories are the beginning of them turning the corner. Recent history tells us that no team is too good to go down though, especially in the unpredictable Spanish game. Celta Vigo were relegated during a season in which they had competed in the Champion’s League having been European regulars for years. Real Sociedad challenged for the title just ten years ago but have now spent a good few years in the second division. If those two could get relegated just like that then the same could easily happen to one of Spain’s current European crop and Villarreal will have to be very careful. They will be aided in their efforts by the fact that there are a number of smaller teams in the division, the likes of Tenerife, Malaga and Xerez, who are still awed when they play Villarreal and thus the Yellow Submarine can put on a dominant performance and win the game. Villarreal need to do more than this though if they want a reasonable finish in the league, let alone another spot in Europe; they need to start beating the bigger teams once more and that will be the true test of their current squad’s mettle.