Villarreal's Yellow Submarine taking on water
Villarreal had plenty to be proud of last season; Club’s hierarchy recognized early problems and resolved them quickly. Fran Escriba couldn't cope with a multitude of early injuries. Poor results piled up. Reserves coach Javier Calleja took over, turning the Yellow Submarines in the right direction. Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga while topping their group in UEFA Europa League. They completed the season on a high. Optimism reigned.
Villarreal’s summer was a busy one with reinforcements a top priority in the transfer market. The attack received the most attention as the Board tried to ensure scoring would improve. Gerard Moreno from Espanyol and Karl Toko Ekambi from Angers boosted the front-line. Carlos Bacca’s loan move from Milan was made permanent.
Other areas were also addressed. Miguel Layun, Santiago Caseres and free agent Santi Cazorla gave Calleja’s squad even more depth. With bright talent already present in midfield in the form of Pablo Fornals and Manu Trigueros, there was a feeling something special was on the horizon. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite.
After 16 La Liga matches, Villarreal lie 18th with only three wins in the kitty. Sitting in the relegation zone, they have a game in hand. As bad luck would have it, Real Madrid provide the opposition. They Yellow Submarine plumb even greater depths than Athletic Bilbao. No one expected these two teams to be in such an awful position.
Villarreal's most alarming issue is scoring, especially considering the significant summer spending on attacking players. Their offensive replacements netted only 17 goals in the campaign's first half, a poor return on a €45 million investment.
Luis Garcia's side is a tad better in defence. Sergio Asenjo’s four clean sheets are positive. The keeper positions himself well for critical stops and communicates effectively. Mario Gaspar and Alvaro do well. The rearguard surrendered just 21 goals. They keep the game in front of them. Production in the final third lets them down.
All the goodwill Javier Calleja built in 2017/18 shattered after a terrible start to the campaign. His tactics bore the blame and Calleja was sacked in December.
The 40-year-old utilised a classic 4-4-2 formation, often relying on his two strikers to make a difference in the opposing half. In theory, they should have. Karl Toko Ekambi, Gerard Moreno and Carlos Bacca all can create chances on their own. Whether through hold-up play or skill, Villarreal possessed enough quality to carve opportunities in front of goal. That didn’t happen.
Villarreal’s midfield sensation Pablo Fornals produced impressive performances. Even Mario Gaspar has been efficient in defence and attack. However, they have struggled to impact collectively as a unit.
After two matches in-charge, Luis Garcia has lost one and drawn the other. The results don't reflect the new intent within the squad. This flame could be vital in campaign’s second half as the Yellow Submarine attempts to emerge from deep waters. There was commitment, character and hunger to make a difference.
The first real test for Garcia is the game against Real Madrid. Santiago Solari's side closed out 2018 in good form and should be cheerful after their Club World Cup win.
Villarreal are on a mission of revival. They are determined to turn the tables. Under Garcia, the attack looks smoother. Transitions from defence to attack are fluid, something previously lacking. An imposing display against Real Madrid will do wonders for players' confidence. If Garcia’s men are to begin a road to recovery, there's no better time to start than in a match against Los Blancos.