It was the first game on day two of the Emirates Cup, and Villarreal made a host of changes at half time. These changes weren’t regarded as significant to many, but under the microscope they can be labelled as evidence to why Villarreal are one of Europe’s most underrated teams and why they are encountering one of the most pivotal seasons in the club’s 92 year history.
The promising manager Marcelino made changes that allowed six academy-produced players to be on the pitch at the same time. Mani Trigueros, a box-to-box central midfielder with a serious engine, Aleix Serrano, a creative midfielder with technique way beyond his years; Pablo Iniguez, a ball-playing centre-half; Jonathan Pereira, a speedy forward; Nahuel Leiva, an extremely promising forward/winger that has the kind of low centre of gravity commonly associated with Sergio Aguero and finally the highly sought-after Gerard Moreno, who had a formidable partnership last season with Luciano Vietto who left for Atleti. Moreno is now showing similar signs with new forwards Leo Baptiste and Roberto Soldado.
The academy graduates are playing alongside bargain signings such as Eric Bailly – who seamlessly replaced Gabriel Paulista – and Roberto Soldado who is showing signs of why Tottenham make him their record signing for £26 million. Villarreal getting him for £10 million shows transfer acumen beyond their perceived stature. In their B side they boast the talents of players like La Masia graduate Edgar Le and the brightest talent in Georgian football history in Anton Shvets.
The future looks bright for Villarreal regardless of how this season goes. The proclamation of a successful season for Villarreal comes from the awareness that Barcelona and Real Madrid are encountering some setbacks. Barcelona’s lynchpin, Xavi, has moved to Qatar. Can the egos of Neymar, Rafinha and Messi remain at bay for another season?
At Real Madrid, the Bale vs. Ronaldo clashes of last season make one question the overall team unity and whether there is a divide or not. Rafa Benitez taking over is a different kettle of fish, as many question his repertoire compared to Carlo Ancelloti. How will he handle the expectations, media demands and even boardroom requests from the infamous Florentino Perez? A story leaked at the beginning of the season that Perez told Benitez to lose weight. Whether true or not, this kind of derisory story calls into question the sustainability of Benitez’s reign even as it is just beginning.
These are all in contrast to Villarreal, as at El Madrigal it’s evident to see that each player is on the same wavelength. They fight for one another and they all believe in Marcelino, right from the ball boy to the chief executive. Regardless of their
season, it’s safe to say that this support will be unblemished come the end of it.
Where will they finish? It’s hard to say. I believe a Europa league spot is realistic this season. The future, however, is very bright.