Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine

Many football fans are solely fans of one club, whether it is their local team, or simply following a team through a member of their family who has persuaded them to support a club which they themselves have supported all their life!

Myself, as most people know, am very fond supporter of one Premiership team in particular, but as some people may not know, I am a huge admirer of Spanish side Villarreal, who go by the nickname “The Yellow Submarine”. Villareal if you will, are “my second team”.

Some of you may wonder why would I have such a fondness for this side? And why, if I’m going to support a Spanish side, isn’t it Barcelona or Real Madrid? Well to me, my reasons are just like any other real football fan; you support a team you feel connects with you. Connects with your philosophy of how you feel football should be played.

I first remember being exposed to the Spanish side when I watched Arsenal’s run to the Champions League final in 2005/06 season. I vividly remember they met a very tricky and yet very tough Villarreal team in the Champions League Semi-final.

Villarreal’s side boasted the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, one of the finest playmakers in European football at the time, the well travelled Argentine Juan Pablo Sorin, and finally a player who was well known on these shores; Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan.

At the time of the semi-final, Villarreal were the smallest side ever to host a Champions League semi-final. There stadium, named “Estadio El Madrigal” has a capacity of just 25,000, highlighting just how small the town is. It was renowned for it loud, intimidating atmosphere, where it feels as if the fans are right on top of the players.

Arsenal eventually overcame Villarreal 1-0 over two legs, in a game which was far from a classic, which was a sloppy affair with nerves overshadowing both sides.

I watched them against Arsenal again in a Champions League game in 2009, this time at the Emirates, in a 3-0 victory. Villarreal were a weaker side then compared to the team competing in La Liga this season, and they were well beaten on the night.

The current squad, for me play some of the best football in Europe. A sold defence, built around Argentinean centre back Gonzalo Rodriguez. The 26 year old has been at the club for seven years, and has over 140 appearances under his belt. This season he has been paired with either one of two other centre backs; the former Valencia defender Carlos Marchena was first choice, but he he has been surpassed by the young 20 year old Argentine; Mateo Muscacchio, who’s performances have caught the year of some of the bigger clubs in Europe, but will be plying his trade with the Spanish side for the foreseeable future.

At full back, Villarreal have two quality defenders, who are equally adapt as attackers. Left back is occupied by the 33 year old Joan Capdevila, who is the current Spain international left back, and featured in the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 tournament wins. Right back was occupied by Spaniard Angel Lopez, until recently where he sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury against Real Madrid which abruptly ended his season. Villarreal have since brought in AS Roma, and Brazilian Cicinho as cover.

This solid back four, which has the third best defensive record in La Liga; only conceding 22 goals in 22 matches so far, sits in front of goalkeeper Diego Lopez. Lopez is 29 years old, and is one of the most consistent and reliable goalkeepers in the league, and has managed to keep 8 clean sheets this season.

Another impressive asset of the Villarreal side, is its intricate ball playing midfield. Four technically superb players, who are comfortable on the ball in high pressure situations, and capable of decisive and defence splitting passing.

For the best part of nine years, there was one man, and one man alone who had been the cornerstone of Villarreal side: Marcos Senna. Now aged 34, he is more of a squad player, as his spell in the first team has been reduced due to injuries, as well as brighter younger talent coming through, however the Spaniard still managed over 220 appearances during his time at Villarreal. Now with his contract up in the summer, this is expected to be his last season with the club. During his time at El Madrigal, he established himself as one of the finest defensive midfielders in world football.

The current central midfield pairing currently consists of Spaniards Bruno Soriano, and Borja Valero. Bruno is more of the defensive minded player, while Borja Valero (who some of you may remember had a spell in England with West Bromwich Albion) has the creative playmaker role.

The formation implement at Villarreal, means they have a very narrow midfield, and the two wide players are classed more as right and left midfielders, rather than “wingers”. A 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation with Santi Cazorla on the left is, and on the right is Cani.

Santi Cazorla is 26 years old, and is capable of playing anywhere in midfield. He is comfortable on the ball, with a great first touch. Most impressive attributes to his game is his acceleration, and his ability to dictate and set the tempo of play. Cani, who operates on the right side, is another technically astute wide man, who has excellent footwork and creativity. He caught the headlines for his goal from the halfway line against Osasuna.

Up front, are two men who have established an excellent partnership, who feed off each other superbly, and are both natural goal scorers. As Villarreal play a narrow 4-4-2 formation, sometimes Nilmar, who is part of the front two, drops a little deeper and plays just behind the out and out front man; Giuseppe Rossi. This partnership is the third best offensive record in La Liga, behind Barca and Real Madrid, with 41 goals from 22 appearances.

Nilmar is a full Brazilian international, and is in his second season at Villarreal. The 26 year olds main attributes are his dribbling ability, his shooting accuracy, and his pace combined with great flair and determination, which allows him to trouble defences. The Villarreal number 7 has 10 goals in 17 appearances so far this season.

His partner up front, is one of the most sought after strikers in Europe; Giuseppe Rossi. The 24 year old former Parma youth player, has 12 goals in 21 appearances this season, and is the main man at El Madrigal. Most impressive from the Italian is his composure in the penalty area, he is a skilled goal scorer, with great off the ball movement and shooting ability. He is a wanted man around Europe, but signed a new contract until 2016, the Italian international is happy at Villarreal.

The final component of this quality Villarreal team is its squad players. There are individuals who help fill in when required, and is an impressive mix of young and ambitious additions to the first eleven. Jose Catala and Mario Gaspar are two young defenders with the latter a player for the future. Midfielders Jefferson Montero, is now on loan at Levente, is a promising young winger, and 22 year old Javier Matilla is a playmaker for the future. Finally up front, Villarreal have an added option to freshen up the strike force when needed, and play that “number 9 role”. This man is 24 year old Marco Ruben. This season has been his breakthrough season, and while he may only have 2 goals in 16 appearances, Ruben has shown great quality and ability, while cutting his teeth in Spain’s top flight.

The man who’s currently at the helm and overseeing this Villarreal team is 41 year old Spaniard: Juan Carlos Garrido. He has been in charge for almost a year, after spending eight years as Villarreal B team manager. A man who knows the club inside/out, Garrido has impressed many of his players with his “ambition and enthusiasm”. His football philosophy is similar to the man who was instrumental to Villarreal’s memorable 05/06 Champions League campaign: Manuel Pellegrini. The 57 year old left in 2009 for Real Madrid, and he discussed the tactics he employed at Villarreal by clicking here.

The main question asked, is “Can Villarreal ever win the La Liga title?” Well it seems very unlikely at the moment, with the duopoly in La Liga, of Barcelona and Real Madrid occupying the summit of the table. However a European trophy (Europa League) and Champions League qualification is the realistic short and long term objectives for Villarreal. For now; they will continue to play their impressive football, while I’ll continue to watch, enjoy and admire the Yellow Submarine.

Real Talk Football

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