GGW assumes that most of its readers were among the hundreds of millions of people who watched Saturday night’s game between Villarreal and Barcelona so it will avoid any arid, sterile, and dessicated descriptions of the painful events of that disappointing evening.

Garrido learns the need to be true to himself

Instead it will look at the lessons Manager Garrido should have learned, and see what effect the experience had on the Yellow Submarine on their next outing.

The first and most important lesson for Garrido was that it is important to be true to yourself and not make changes based on fear. Villarreal had pulled themselves up to sixth place in the league based on Garrido adopting a system of 4:3:3.

But when it came to the crucial test, even playing at home he abandoned that system for a return to 4:4:2. He underestimated the effect such a change would have on the mentality of his players, stimulating doubt in his own belief in them.

As Garrido pointed out before the game, Villarreal were facing the best team in the world. But if Barca were ever going to be vulnerable it would be right after the morale sapping defeat over two intense games with Mourinho’s Inter Milan. If Villarreal had swarmed over them from the start and got an early goal there is no knowing what negative effect that might have had on a tired Barcelona team.

As it was Barcelona got the first goal, from a perfect Xavi through ball to a delighted Messi. And you could almost literally see the confidence and self-belief surging back through their veins, making them all fitter and taller. All doubts died with that first goal and Barcelona resumed business as normal.

On a more fundamental tactical level Garrido seemed unaware of what GGW has christened “The Guardiola Paradox”.  This new natural law of football states that the more men you play against Guardiola’s team in midfield in an attempt to overcome their always three man midfield, the more you will be surrounded and overwhelmed. So teams that play 4 or 5 against Guardiola’s team have never come close to getting an equal share of possession and control. When a team has the courage to play only three in midfield, like Mourinho’s Inter in the first leg at San Siro, then they have a fighting chance of prevailing without having to have a greater overall share of possession. In the knowledge of this paradox, playing at home against a Barcelona coming off a damaging and demoralising elimination, Garrido should have stuck to his principles and played his 4:3:3 formation. Put crudely, would a Villarreal team true to his  4:3:3 principles have been likely to end a first half 3 goals down? We will never know but it is unlikely they could have done more cravenly than the formation he did put on the park.

Mourinho working on solving the Guardiola Paradox

In the second half at the Camp Nou last week Mourinho pushed the Guardiola Paradox to its logical extreme, lining up a back line of 5 with a defensive back line of 4 just in front of them and no-one in midfield. He still prevailed showing the Paradox is valid even at that extreme.

The second lesson should have been a clear recognition that certain of his players are just not good enough at the top level. Angel, Bruno and Cani come into this category. Even defensively Angel was exposed. No longer can the club pretend they don’t need a new right back, have lacked a class one since Beletti was sold. Cani is just not a good enough passer at this level and gives the ball away far too often. Has been doing so all season. Playing against the Barca passers just highlighted the extent of his passing defects. And Bruno is a better player than last season but not international class. He is not good enough to keep Senna out of the team or even out of his best position. And if Villarreal can get 25m or even 20m euros for Giuseppe Rossi then please Llaneza take it, and buy a better forward partner for Nilmar, like Negredo or Guiza.

The team played better in the second half when Garrido belatedly reverted to his 4:3:3 formation and substitute Llorente managed to pull a goal back. To those GGW readers who were wondering, the “Beti Mugan” highlighted on his vest  is not  a person but a Spanish Rock Band. However a revitalised Barca were never going to let them pull 3 goals back. That would have been true even if Busquets had been sent off, following the referee undoubtedly showing him a second yellow card then cowardly pretending he had shown it to Llorente when he realised he would be sending  a Barca man off.

There is no doubt it is Busquets he is showing this card to.

Contextual examination of both TV and still photos leaves absolutely no doubt he showed the card directly to Busquets. Rather than admit the referee was so craven the Appeal Committee yesterday threw out Villarreal’s appeal against that yellow card to Llorente.

Busquets had better watch out. That is two games in a row he has been caught cheating on TV in front of hundreds of millions of football watchers, once simulating injury to get Motta sent off, once refusing to go off when his number was clearly up. Not a good person. Guardiola needs to have a word with him about acceptable behaviour.

Maybe GGW can now stop proclaiming Xavi as the best player in the world. Surely everyone can now see this truth. He made three of the goals with sublime passes and scored the fourth. He was playing with a 3cm muscle tear in spite of the risk to his World Cup dreams. What a pity for Villarreal he had not been forced to rest. Let us hope he does it no more damage in the last 3 games and gets fully fit to prove in the World Cup that he is indeed the greatest player.

So Barca deserved their victory and a disappointing Villarreal can have no complaint about the result. The result put an end to any nonsense that the Yellow Submarine might qualify for the Champions League next season. Fortunately for their Europa League plans, Getafe had only drawn with Valladollid leaving themselves 1 point behind Villarreal with 3 rounds to go. The previous round, the 34th, Villarreal supporters had split into two diametrically opposing camps when Getafe played Sevilla. Half, the dour realists, prayed hard for a Sevilla win to damage their most dangerous rival to Villarreal’s Europa League hopes. And twice during the game these prayers were heeded and Sevilla took the lead. The other half, composed of Romantic Dreamers, prayed even harder for a Getafe victory to keep alive Villarreal’s Champions League quest. Their prayers were answered with a Getafe penalty winner in the 93rd minute. By Sunday when Athletic Bilbao played at home against Mallorca even the most romantic of the Dreamers had turned realist and every single Villarreal supporter was behind Mallorca, who pulled off only their third away victory of the season to leave Athletic still 2 points behind Villarreal.

So entering the 35th Round of games on Tuesday, Villarreal’s destiny was still in their own hands. Defeat Almeria away on Tuesday,  beat Valencia at home on Saturday and win away to Zaragosa the following and final Saturday, and nothing could prevent Villarreal qualifying for the Europa League.

First up, on Tuesday night, was Almeria, a team who had not won for many weeks and who were sliding helplessly into the relegation zone.  Garrido was denied Gonzalo through injury and Capdevilla through suspension but otherwise had a full squad available. He restored his 4:3:3 formation but had both Bruno and Senna in the midfield three instead of having 2 more creative offensive players. He dropped Angel, Ibagaza and Cani. Villarreal started confidently but casually, not playing with the aggressive intensity that might have produced an early goal. They were made to pay for this sloppiness in the14th minute when disaster struck. Javi Venta carelessly slammed the ball against Musacchio and Almeria scored from the rebound.

Sad Musacchio abandons his beleaguered team mates

Two minutes later new centre back Musacchio was sent off for a crude tackle from behind on a Almeria forward going in on goal. Sending him off was perhaps a little harsh but a perfectly correct decision. It was the 7th time this season that a Villarreal centre back has been sent off. Gallardo moved Bruno back into defence and pulled Nilmar right back into right midfield. Now as a forward he might be worth the 15m euros paid for him, but as a midfielder he is no great shakes. Up front Rossi never touched the ball and Llorente ran and ran, like he always does, to as little effect as usual. Twice more in the first half, weak Almeria goals came, with Bruno being pulled out of his new position each time. So for the second game in a row Villarreal ended the first 45 minutes 3-0 down and this time a man down too.

Garrido made changes for the second half, pulling off an anodyne Rossi and a hapless Nilmar, and replacing them with Cani and Ibagaza, leaving Llorente alone up front in a 4:4:1 formation. The revised formation played with more focus and determination and clawed their way back into the game with a goal from Marcano. When Almeria had a player sent off in the 65th minute, ending  50 minutes of Almeria playing with  a man more, it seemed that a minor miracle was possible. Within 2 minutes that feeling was confirmed with a goal from Ibagaza.

After 12 years wee Ibagaza scores a headed goal

Little Ibagaza had just broken the record for the number of appearances by an Argentinean in La Liga, even more than Di Stefano. He broke another record last night, getting his first ever headed goal. With Getafe only drawing at home to Sporting a draw would have been enough to keep Villarreal in 6th place.  They did try hard but as often happens in such situations their forward thrusts allowed Almeria to break quickly and steal a 4th goal in the 92nd minute to confirm the result as a 4-2 defeat that left Villarreal level with Getafe but behind them on a direct results calculation.

Athletic Bilbao might well overtake them both with a home victory over Malaga tonight but given they have to go to the Bernabeu on Day 37, Getafe are still the main rival for that last Europa League spot. Getafe’s last two games are at home to Malaga and then away on the last day to an Atletico Madrid team more likely to have their minds on the Europa League Final the preceeding Wednesday and the Spanish Cup Final the following Wednesday. If Getafe win both these games, as they probably should, Villarreal cannot finish in 6th place, even if they win their remaining two games.

Then all that would be left to preserve Villarreal’s long unbroken run in Europe into next season would be Plan B and Plan C.

Plan B requires Mallorca to finish above Sevilla in that final 4th place guaranteeing them Champions League football. Sevilla in 5th would then need to beat Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Cup Final and take the Europa League place reserved for the Copa del Rey. In addition Atletico would need to have lost to Fulham so as not to get a Europa League place as holders. And Villarreal would have to have finished above Athletic Bilbao. Easy Peasy.

Plan C requires Mallorca to go bankrupt in the summer, as has been strongly rumoured for months as a definite possibility, and be denied UEFA permission to compete in Europe. A variation of this Plan is for UEFA to deny Valencia permission to play in Europe on the grounds that their 600m euros debt is an offence against fiscal decency in football.

Given the weak likelihood of these two options, the best bet for Villarreal supporters might be to pray that Malaga don’t want to be relegated and decide to win against both Athletic tonight and Getafe on Saturday. Even two 0-0 draws from Malaga would probably be enough. Poor Malaga’s last game is against Real Madrid so these two games might be their only chance of avoiding relegation.

Whatever way you look at it, losing against Barcelona and Almeria may well have finally sunk the Yellow Submarine’s hopes for good, but the story of Villarreal has all been about miracles, so maybe another one is yet possible. GGW will report on the final two rounds of games in the Yellow Submarine’s increasingly desperate struggle to stay afloat in Europe.