Good News

Marchena and Borja Valero two new signings help good start in Europe

The main good news is that Villareal comfortably qualified for the Group Stage of the Europa League. That must count as a good outcome after finishing last season one place below the Europa League slots. After a summer of diplomatic activity UEFA at the last minute deleted Mallorca from the list of clubs accepted for the Play-off Round and offered their place  to Villarreal. This action was taken because over the summer Mallorca had gone into the Spanish equivalent of Administration, using the Ley Concursal to declare themselves effectively bankrupt.

Such has been the European prowess of Villarreal over the past few seasons that Paddy Power immediately inserted them as 5th favourites for the Europa League behind only big guns Juventus, Manchester City, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid.

The Play-off Round draw was kind to Villarreal pairing them with Dnepr Mogilev from Bielorussia. Of the 74 teams involved in the Play-off Round Villarreal were ranked 3rd top under the UEFA coefficient system based on recent performance. Mogilev were ranked 3rd bottom, 72nd  worst of the 74 teams. 

The immensity of that gap proved to be accurate over the two legs. Mogilev were so poor that even the most disillusioned Celtic supporter would have felt confident in putting their house on Celtic to beat this team. And would have got his money back.

GGW had predicted that Celtic would be too strong for Utrecht, a sentiment shared by 90% of Utrecht even after the first leg. Celtic threw it away in the second leg, being craven and incompetent beyond belief, to the surprise and delight of an astonished Utrecht and their delirious supporters. And Barry Maguire delivered on his promise of driving Celtic to the ‘eve of destruction’ with a cracking goal.  Reality returned to Utrecht that weekend as they were hammered 4-0 by Twente in their league game, a reminder that they are not secret world beaters, just a decent enough team very lucky to get Celtic at their absolute worst.

But even that dire Celtic performance would have been enough to see off Dnepr from Bielorrussia. Villarreal spanked them 5-0 in the first leg at the Madrigal literally without breaking sweat on a warm Spanish evening. So overwhelming had been the superiority of the Yellow Submarine, that manager Garrido felt safe enough to send his new recruits from the Cantera to make their European debuts for Villarreal, leaving 5 of their star players in Spain and 4 others on the bench. Again it was really no contest with Villarreal winning 2-1 to end up victors on a 7-1 aggregate, one of the biggest of the round.

The Group Stage draw paired Villarreal, as top seeds, with Bruges, Dynamo Zagreb and PAOK Salonica. I know from my work on my book about the relationship between Celtic and Villarreal that a fair number of Celtic supporters have in the past gone to Villarreal’s  European games, particularly when Celtic have been eliminated.

So the dates to look out for are 16th September in Zagreb,  4th November in Salonika and  15th December  in Brugeswhich is probably the most realistic venue for a quick trip over. The three home legs are 30th September , 21st October  and 2nd December. A very warm welcome is guaranteed to those Celtic supporters who decide to take in any one of the home games, including free beer in the Celtic Submari Penya. So anyone  who had put some money aside to follow Celtic in Europe this season could do worse than follow the Yellow Submarine. GGW will report regularly on Villarreal’s campaign in the Europa League.

Bad News

The main bad news is that Villarreal lost the first game of the new La Liga season, an eminently winnable away trip to Real Sociedad. Villarreal are a far superior team with far better players but a combination of managerial over-caution and bad luck led them to end up losing 1-0. Given that nearest rivals Valencia and Sevilla both won away from home against equally weak opposition, this was a very poor start to the campaign for one of the top 4 Champions League slots.

Garrido had used a 4:2:3:1 formation against Besiktas.  He repeated  this for the home game against Dnepr. Against Besiktas the play was crowded ineffectively into the centre of the park and it was only when he brought on wider players for the second half that things improved. I found it hard to believe he repeated the same pattern versus Dnepr. The Byelorussians were so poor that any formation would have hammered them. It seemed churlish even childish to complain furiously about a team selection that produced a 5-0 victory in  a European tie but many of the Celtic Submari  moaned in the bar after the game that a more adventurous formation including Nilmar on from the start could have produced double figures. Nilmar did play, and score, in the away leg.  I had assumed that for a La Liga game  he wanted to win, Garrido would send out  a team geared to attack. But instead Nilmar started on the bench with only little Rossi alone up front. All Real Sociedad had to do, and they certainly did it determinedly, was to string a tight back four supported by 2 or 3 defensive midfielders around Rossi and across the top of their penalty area. Villarreal were allowed the bulk of the possession but it frittered away against this block of 6. Rossi never saw the ball and the few shots Villarreal managed were all from over 25 yards out and no real danger. And under the “Old Boys” rule of football, in about the first Sociedad attack former Villarreal workhorse Joseba Llorente found a flash of skill to flick the ball past a static Musacchio to a sprinting colleague and even Diego Lopez could not prevent Villarreal going 1-0 down.

It was some time into the second half before Garrido made changes, bringing on first Nilmar then winger Jefferson Montero. Nilmar improved matters and came close to scoring a couple of times but it w as too little too late and Real Sociedad fired up by their undeserved lead, held on gratefully to claim all 3 points. 

The Villarreal style devised by Paquito and developed by Pellegrini involved use of the whole width and depth of the pitch. The way to be true to this style with only one forward would be to play either Marco Ruben or Jozy Altidore as the front man with Rossi on one side and Nilmar on the other. Remember Germany’s effective World Cup football came with Thomas Muller and Podolski, two forwards, playing wide behind Klose. Then Spain beat them playing with two men up front. A Guardiola might allow Villarreal to play with three forwards. But realistically Garrido has not yet found the confidence and nerve to do so. However he has two world class forwards in Rossi and Nilmar and can surely accommodate both up front from the start. Why buy the Brazilian international centre forward for 14 million euros then keep him on the bench when there is  a game to be won rather a lead to be protected? The increased competition for the reduced midfield places involving Bruno, Senna, Borja Valero, Cani, Cazorla and Montero should keep them all on their toes and allow changes as games progress. 

Hopefully from comments he ha s made this week it would  Garrido has reached a similar conclusion without the benefit of my advice and that Espanol will face both Rossi and Nilmar on Sunday. Villarreal must win to avoid a second disastrous start in successive years.

More Good News

The last GGW post on Villarreal had suggested that Senna might not feature in Garrido’s starting eleven and that Gonzalo Rodriguez was completely out of the picture and on the verge of leaving the club. Garrido has obviously overcome whatever reservations he had about Senna last season and has reinstated the fit again Brazilian to his starting eleven. In what will almost certainly be his last season in Spain, Senna is set to give good value to the club.

Gonzalo - repentent and readmitted to the family

Gonzalo had been severely punished following his serious breach of club discipline at the last game of last season. Garrido made it clear to him he would not be picked by him again and he should move on. He looked a desperately sad picture as he trained alone on the fringes at the Cuidad Deportiva. But he said clearly he wanted to continue playing for Villarreal and conducted himself with silent if sad dignity. His teammates asked if the situation could be reconsidered and to everyone’s surprise Garrido and Gonzalo appeared at the morning press conference just before the Dnepr game, not to announce his transfer as expected but his reinstatement. Gonzalo was suitably remorseful and contrite. Garrido was mature and magnanimous and said the slate was clean.

GGW was glad at this development, not just pragmatically because  Gonzalo is a far better defender than Catala and Kiko the two recent recruits from Villarreal B, and that the Argentinean international will provide class back up to the new SuperM pair of Marchena and Musacchio. But because observing over the past two years I have seen Gonzalo as a likeable person. A sometimes silly boy, admittedly, but a good person. No one who honours his father and mother the way Gonzalo does, can be all bad. One of the happier sights the night of the Dnepr home game, was to see Gonzalo, smiling again at last,  go over with his father to embrace old team mate Robert Pires, a very good judge of character who was delighted a positive solution had been found.

 Garrido emerged from the whole episode stronger not weaker. He had made his point about discipline, everyone got the message that there would be zero tolerance for bad behaviour. Yet the human qualities that have made Villarreal  a family club over the last few years were brought into play and forgiveness was shown to man genuinely repentant and wanting to stay part of the family.

Further proof of Garrido’s ability to show that strength comes from flexibility not rigidity has been shown with his reintegration of Jozy Altidore into the first team squad. Still only 20, Altidore has had a wealth of international experience over the past few years with the USA, and performed creditably at the highest level. He will get better and better but already can offer Villarreal something slightly different from Rossi and Nilmar, both of whom are lighter, slighter and more mobile. Hopefully both Altidore and Marco Ruben will get opportunities to show a big man in the middle can score goals within the Villarreal systems of play.

Whatever little criticisms I have made here of Garrido’s over caution tactically, I am in no doubt that he is absolutely the right man to be manager of Villarreal and as the events with Senna, Gonzalo and Altidore prove, he is already growing in strength, stature and confidence . This process of positive growth will continue and I am certain Garrido will evolve into one of the top managers in Spain, and as a proven winner, help Villarreal to their trophy.

More Bad News

Cazorla Fit he is a key player

Santi Cazorla is one of the key players at Villarreal. After showing exceptional promise in  season 2006-2006, he was sent on loan to Recreativo where he won the Don Ballon ratings award as the Spanish Player of the Season in 2006-2007. He returned to Villarreal  in the summer of 2007 and was an important part of the team that finished SubCampeones that season. That form got him a late call up for the Spanish Euro 2008 squad where he made a meaningful contribution to the Spanish triumph including a substitute’s appearance in the Final.

It had looked briefly in the summer of 2008 that he would be taken away to Real Madrid but a bold intervention by President Roig mad e Cazorla feel valued enough, and rewarded enough, to stay and commit himself to Villarreal. His serious injury in season 2008-2009 just before the Champions league Quarter Final second leg against Arsenal was a major contributory factor to Villarreal’s weak surrender. It took him  a long time to recover from that injury but even when he was back playing it was obvious things were not right with him and eventually he was diagnosed with serious back problems. He returned to something closer to his old form at the end of the season and helped Villarreal climb up to finish 7th in the table. This late flurry of form just failed to allow him to regain his place in the World Cup squad. Once that decision was taken, he took another one, to have an operation on his back to hopefully cure the problem once and for all. In the pre-season games, and against Dnepr he looked fit, fast, sharp and confident, and Villarreal fans, who love him, thought all the problems were over. However in a recent interview with knowledgeable local journalist and radio reporter Javi Mata  a different and more worrying picture emerged. Although Cazorla now has less back pain the operation was not the complete success he hoped it would be and there remain serous problems with his back. Fortunately, he is much more able to play football without the debilitating pain that affected him last season. He feels better when he plays and is thus able to play better. But as he told Javi Mata there is still considerable pain and normal simple things, like picking up his young son Enzo in his arms, still causes him severe problems and pain. The doctors have told him it will get better, slowly but from the tone of some of his comments, it is still a depressing and unsatisfactory business. As I said to Javi when I asked for his permission to quote from his article “If he were an thoroughbred racehorse he would be sold, or shot. He would certainly not be expected to win the Derby” How able he will be to stand up to the strains of  a full season, with 38 league games and more in the Europa League remains to be seen. A fit Santi Cazorla is one of the best and most exciting players in La Liga, hopefully his back will allow him to keep demonstrating that reality.  But after reading the Mata interview it is hard to avoid the felling that there will be more problems and absences to come.

 Latest Good News

This coming weekend is the Vila-real Fiestas weekend, when the whole town celebrates, and how. Ever since the major friendship between supporters of Celtic and Villarreal started in 2004, many Celtic supporters have managed to come over to Vila-real to take part in these Fiestas, some of them every year. This year should again see a fair number making the journey including some of the originals from Carfin and Motherwell. GGW will attend all 3 days of the Fiestas, as well as fitting in the game against Espanol on the Sunday evening. It will be a last opportunity to get some more stories about the remarkable friendships between the supporters of these two great clubs before my book on the Yellow Submarine is sent to the printers. To say nothing of a chance to share a drink or 5 with many remarkable people. Today’s Spanish papers provide gruesome pictorial evidence that one element of Spanish Fiestas can be fatal. Last night some poor sod out enjoying himself, was gored to death at a bullrun in another Fiesta. Over the e weekend several full grown bulls will roam the main streets of Vila-real. Like myself most Celtic supporters who have made this trip have gruesome stories of eyeball to eyeball encounters. Let us hope no more deadly tales are created over what should be a great weekend.