La Liga review: Villarreal’s performance through the stats

It’s over! As La Liga comes to an end, some things have changed, and other have stayed the same. Valencia is as mercurial as it gets, that Marcos Llorente is arguably the signing of the season, and Sevilla’s Monchi is back with a vengeance.

We also see that some things are as sure as death and taxes: Lionel Messi, Pichichi. Iago Aspas, 99% of Celta. Fran Escriba, making miracles at Elche. Simeone pushes his team one match at a time.

But, how did Villarreal fair in La Liga? Emery’s men finished seventh as the club focused in what would be a magical and unexpected Europa League title, but it is important to mention that the fifth spot was there until the last match. The results did not help, and Villarreal finished outside of the top six.

Luckily enough, the Europa League win means Villarreal will play in the Champions League. However, it is still important to measure the performance of the players and the team as they compare to the rest of La Liga. Let’s take a look!

Overall La Liga Stats: Villarreal players in the Top 50 per stat

Most goals:

2. Gerard Moreno, 23 

34. Alcacer, 6

42. Bacca, 5

  • The Moreno-dependency is obvious in this stat, as the striker scored roughly 45% of the goals of the team. Alcacer had a good start and Bacca a good end to the season, but a need to reinforce this position is obvious when looking at the numbers.

Most assists:

12. Gerard Moreno, 7

13. Trigueros, 7

39. Alcacer, 4

40. Parejo, 4

  • Here, Moreno is also leading but Trigueros, with more matches played but the same amount of assists, supports the striker. Alcacer and Parejo round things up.

Most shots (total):

3. Gerard Moreno, 47

29. Alcacer, 20

  • This is a very interesting stat, as Moreno shoots much less than Messi, but did not finish far off from the Argentinean. He is definitely more efficient than Alcacer too, as the forward from Torrent scored 6 in 20 shots, for 23 in 47 of Moreno. This stat bears repeating–every other shot on target Moreno makes, ends in goal.

Most passes (total):

3. Parejo, 2,668

10. Pau, 2,058

11. Albiol, 2,051

34. Trigueros, 1,579

  • Partnerships are on the menu in this stat. The Parejo-Trigueros and Pau-Albiol couples serve each other well, and account for a big portion of the passes of the team. Especial mention to Dani, who guided the team through 53 total matches this overall season. He played everything.

Most times recovered possession: 

25. Parejo, 45

  • The midfielder not only creates, but destroys, as well. He recovers the ball more than once per match.

Most fouls (total):

15. Trigueros, 58

41. Gerard Moreno, 44

49. Pedraza, 42

  • Trigueros is top here, and it makes sense as many of us have the classic image of Manu complaining about a foul that shouldn’t have been call in our brains. Moreno and Pedraza complete the podium as two aggressive players on the pitch.

Most dribbles (total):

4. Gerard Moreno, 71

33. Samu Chukwueze, 39

39. Parejo, 37

42. Moi, 36

  • Samu and Moi show in the Top 50 in this stat, demonstrating the talent Emery knows they have, but showing a bit lower than one would have expected.

Minutes played (total):

7. Asenjo, 3,240

11. Parejo, 3,119

11. Albiol, 3,119

25. Pau, 2,970

  • Asenjo played basically everything, and Parejo was not far off. Albiol and Pau spent the entire year together as well.

Whoscored.com Rating:

7. Gerard Moreno, 7.62

19. Parejo, 7.10

  • We took the Whoscored.com ratings as a measure of overall performance this season, and two Villarreal players would make the best La Liga team: Moreno and Parejo.

Other stats worth noting

  • Mario is the 10th best player in La Liga in terms of tackles per game, with 2.2 successful ones per match. 
  • Trigueros is the fourth best in the competition in terms of assists away from home, with four. 
  • Parejo is the fourth best passer in the league (per match), with 74.5 passes every 90 minutes.
  • Asenjo made it to the middle of the pack when it came to saves, accounting for roughlt 2 saves per match, 80 total.

Team review

Villarreal is also highlighted in several areas in the collective:

  • Fourth team with the most goals, with 60–but actually the 9th with the most shots per match, with 10.7. Efficiency is the name of the game. 
  • Villarreal shows his willingness to let the opposition run its game and counteract, and the numbers support this claim. The team is in the bottom four in terms of aerial challenges won (13 per match) and least fouls committed (11.8 every 90 minutes)and in the bottom five in interceptions per match, with 9.8. Emery’s men are also the 2nd team with the least yellow cards, with 65, only under Real Madrid (57). 
  • In the offensive, Villarreal shines again: Fourth team with the most possession on average (54.3%), also top four in most shots per match (4.3), and the second best dribbling team, with 11.5 successful dribbles per match, only behind you-know-who. 

Overall Insights

  • Gerard Moreno takes the cake: Overall, he is the top scorer, the player with the most assists, most dribbles, most shots, and overall rating in the team. On top of that, he is also by far the top scorer away from home, with 14 goals in 17 matches, and the seventh best dribbler in La Liga, with 2.2 successful dribbles per game. 
  • The team was not known for its defensive power this season, neither in the midfield, recovering possession, nor conceding a small amount of goals. However, it proved to be very efficient with the chances it enjoyed.
  • The wings have proven useful throughout the season, but the middle of the pitch is where it’s at for Villarreal. Pau and Albiol, Parejo and Trigueros, and Moreno up front are the gold of the team. If Roig Negueroles manages to bring in a dangerous winger, Foyth sticks around, and a promising striker joins the ranks, four competitions will seem less daunting to a stretched-thin squad.

A week later: Reflections on the match that changed it all.

Villarreal (11) 1-1 (10) Manchester United.

Very few times a single match has meant so much to a club. One can go back to specific moments in this sport and pinpoint similar ones–Real Madrid’s Mijatovic goal and narrow victory against Juventus to claim their 7th (then called) European Cup; City’s Aguero moment and first Premier League in decades; Deportivo A Coruña’s Centenariazo, at the Santiago Bernabeu no less, to win the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) against, you guessed it, Real Madrid.

For Villarreal this match at the end of May means so many things. A week after the historic win at Gdansk, Poland, we look over some of those. What is clear is that the goal-and-save combo by Geronimo Rulli changes the history, context, and future timeline of this entity.

The main thing to take away here is that Villarreal is, as of May 26th, a club with a continental trophy. The team based in the province of Castellon had not won a proper title ever, its history dating back to 1923 (although the official birth of the entity that is now called Villarreal FC came in the 1940s, but the sentimental start year was 98 years ago).

98 years later, they put that heavy, impressive trophy on the shelves of the stadium. Some regional titles and two Intertoto Cups were the full baggage of this club before the Europa League came into everyone’s lives.

Because of this trophy, Villarreal is, now more than ever, a fashionable team. The Yellow Submarine was always a team people used to like, but a team that is now cool to follow because it wins, too. The fans who don’t necessarily come from Vila-real, nor the ones who just happened to fall in love with the club after the first promotion in 1998, or the penalty missed in 2006, or the Cazorla, Senna, and Rossi days, can now become part of the feeling of supporting this team because it is simply fun to follow teams that win titles. It’s the reason so many fans support Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, and others–it’s fun to celebrate.

Villarreal is now on that list. In Spain, a country focused most of the time on Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico, being up there is complicated. Villarreal is only one of seven clubs in Spain to have won a European title. That says a lot of the team Emery has made perform. Neither the amazing squad Deportivo enjoyed in the early 00s, nor Guerrero and Etxeberria’s Athletic, nor Villarreal itself from when the Yellow Submarine took a spot in the top two, a little over a decade ago, achieved what Emery’s men have.

With this trophy that folks in Vila-real and all over the region and country will travel, near and far, to take a picture with, a second, very important outcome is met: Villarreal gets to enter the Champions League in the approaching season.

Now, this is now a milestone that will necessarily last as a legacy in the honors of the club like the Europa League trophy, but it is an immensely impactful one.

Being in the Champions League means, among others, three things:

  • More money for the club as part of the elite of the continent.
  • More appeal for new players to join the team, as playing in the Champions League is, for many, only surpassed by playing in the World Cup.
  • More appeal for current players to stay and enjoy an exciting, top-tier, ambitious season.

This last point is crucial. Let’s take into account two possible scenarios:

Scenario A: Rulli misses the penalty, De Gea scores. Villarreal do not win the title, do not qualify for the Champions League, do not have the need to strengthen the squad as much, and they have to play UEFA’s Europa Conference League.

Scenario B: Villarreal wins and trophy, Champions League, money and appeal, to sign more better players and retain great ones, follow.

In which scenario do you think Pau Torres sticks around, at least one more season, to see the year through? What about 29-year-old Gerard Moreno? Or Pedraza, who is getting some attention from England and Italy?

This trophy means everyone, including the top stars at Villarreal, want to stick around. This will be a marquee year, with plenty of money to improve the team (without going crazy, Roig always reminds us), pay more to those staying, and a team in a town of 50,000 in the spotlight as the shiny winner of the Europa League.

And yes, with “Mr. Europa League” Unai Emery in charge, a man who is ready to make his mark in the Champions League. Unless a truly irresistible offer comes through, nobody will want to miss this.

There are other factors coming Villarreal’s way because of this win: The club will collect roughly 30 million Euros between the Europa League and the Supercup matches, regardless of the outcome of the match against Chelsea. They’ll be able to play, with zero pressure, against Chelsea in August, and potentially lift two trophies in three months, after 98 years of no titles.

Villarreal will also be in the first group of Champions League teams, along with the league winners, in the drawing over the summer for the group stage. Do you know who isn’t in the first group? Real Madrid and Barcelona. Group #2.

Crazy days.

The top takeaways though are that Villarreal and Roig finally have their title, that the Champions League is back, and that nobody will want to miss this.

Get excited.

The celebration in Vila-real, days later, was something unseen. Fans from across the town, but from far out as well came to join into the festivities. Tens of thousands of yellow shirts climbed light posts, trees, and buildings just to wave at the team bus. Kids by the thousands cheered as their passion for the team that won a title grows, and remains in their hearts, forever.

The club store ran out of shirts, scarves and flags; the chapel of Sant Pasqual ran out of candles and the traditional bracelets. The smallest town ever to win a European trophy enjoyed for days.

Parejo got drunk for the second time in his life. Capoue took his shirt off the entire time. It got wild.

In the evening, the bus, which slowly had been making its way to the stadium in a sea of yellow, was welcomed by a small cohort in the actual pitch at La Ceramica, and a group of little more than 300 guests celebrated the trophy, said thank yous, took pictures, and had dinner together with some music from a band from local town Almazora, Los Makis.

And that, right there, is the essence of Villarreal. The “first title”, as Fernando Roig puts it, is to “Remain in La Liga”. After that, the goal is to do as well as possible; to improve the team every year, and sometimes, like last week, to try to make history. Sometimes it looks like a semifinal, a penalty missed; some others, like a second place in La Liga, taking Barcelona’s spot. Last week, it meant lifting a title against a team with over three times the budget, and 66 trophies.

However, Villarreal always remains humble, counts its blessings, and thanks those who made it possible.

That is who Villarreal is. And that is who all of us, natives of Vila-real like me, or fans of Villarreal in Argentina, Japan, wherever; and players, staff and ownership should always strive to be.

We’ve made history.

We enjoy the spoils.

We’ll get back to work.

And it was all Yellow!

Villarreal, and Vila-real, have their first trophy. The world celebrates with us.

If you are a fan of any sport, there are moments in your life where a song, a word, or a phrase will make you stop on your tracks.
A lump will form in your throat; a wave of heat will rise up from your stomach and into your chest.  For a moment, your mind will go somewhere else. And not just anywhere–it will go to a very specific place.

If you are from Spain, that will happen, without fail, every time someone plays Shakira’s “Waka Waka.” Extra time goal. Daniel Jarque dedication.

If you are a City fan, it will undeniably be the word “Aguero,” followed by five or six more o’s at the end. Last minute shot. Shirt waving in the air. 

If I write “Can you believe this? Go, Go, USA!” A portion of you will probably see a certain #10 sliding into the corner flag. Pile of players to follow. Vuvuzelas galore. 

Starting today, a single word will do just that to all Villarreal fans. 

“Gdansk.”

That hard to pronounce, brow-furrowing, beautifully coiled, twisted word is ours now. We own it. We also get to have it. Plenty of teams in this sport never get one. 

Others wait a long, long time to get theirs. 

Last night, we got ours. 

Villarreal is a champion of Europe, and there is nothing else that needs to be said. The ramifications of this title will be felt for decades to come in this club, in this town, and in the East of Spain, where the star of Vila-real, shines bright and expands today more than ever.

There are plenty of things I could say about the match itself. Things you could read in any other of the match reports you can read today. I could talk about our players, and how nervous they were in the beginning. I could discuss at length on Capoue’s tremendous match, Parejo’s guidance when the team needed leadership, on Albiol and Pau’s confirmation as the two best centerbacks in the history of the club. 

I could praise Gerard Moreno’s performance as the best striker in the history of this club. 

It is usually difficult to find match reports, in English, about last night’s match. Today, it will be extremely easy. Everyone is a Villarreal fan today, and everyone wants to join the spotlight. 

It’s all good. The truth is, I vaguely remember all that. 

The month of May did not prove to be productive for me. I have a full-time job, and I had not been able to concentrate on anything for the past two weeks. Yesterday was no different. Throughout the entire day, my nerves had me dancing to Villarreal’s official Spotify playlist, with more songs that my parents danced to that I care to mention. 

I don’t think I had lunch. 

I smoked a cigarette (I don’t smoke). 

I watched the entire match from the floor of my living room, instead of using one of these inventions from the 1800s, the couch (I don’t remember why I didn’t).

And, I did not celebrate the first goal. It didn’t seem real. 

When a team that has never won a title is ahead, in its first final, it doesn’t make any sense. We, as a town, as a fanbase, as Europa League finalists, spent the better part of the month of May unable to understand what was happening, and useless to figure out how a finalist should behave. It was absolutely out of our comfort zone. 

For a team has never won a title, a final is, in a lot of ways, the worst place to be. As a fan of this kind of club, a final is truly the only thing standing between you and the first trophy ever–and that feels vulnerable. 

You are tossed into the ocean, a flag of your team around your neck, in the middle of a storm. There are two of you, and only one raft. Good luck.

Throughout the match, I kept seeing story arcs. When President Fernando Roig was told by UEFA he could not come into the stadium, as the COVID negative had happened too recently and there was a need to be cautious, I saw the arc: 

“Villarreal President has to fly back home after being denied entry by UEFA, and the team feels his absence in the final.”

The first ten minutes of the match, after seeing how nervous, error-prone and weak in the knees my team was against a team that had won it all, I saw another it again:

“Villarreal suffers first-final jitters and trips on its way to a first title”

120 minutes later, when everything had been played and it was the turn to risk it all on penalties, there it was again.

“Villarreal lose on penalties–again.”

I especially remember thinking of Pau Torres, as he approached to take the 10th penalty of the round. A player who had seen Roman miss the penalty in the stands in 2006, a player from Vila-real, would have to experience the pain Roman felt, multiplied by the 50,000 people in his and my village. That story practically wrote itself. 

But, to my shock, none of that happened. Villarreal, the President, Unai Emery, and the town of Vila-real were meant to lift that trophy last night. It was our time, it was our match, and even though at times it looked likely that Manchester United could pull from experience and take it home, they didn’t. 

A lot of that credit has to go to who is, officially and instantly, the best manager in the history of the club. For days, I had debated whether having an amazing team with an inexperienced manager was better, or worse, than having a good team with a really experienced manager. 

The latter is better. I am convinced now.

And because all of this, because of Emery, because of Fernando Roig and Jose Manuel Llaneza, because of an involved, engaged, passionate, hungry group of players, and because Geronimo Rulli apparently is a goalkeeper who knows how to send a penalty kick to the top corner, stare down De Gea, and save his shot, we are champions of Europe. 

When Rully stopped the penalty, I cried. I cried the happiest I have ever cried in my life. And I, like 50,000 in Vila-real and many others accross the world, will be in the clouds for years to come.

My uncle played in this club. Third Division, late 70s; mud, no TV revenue, and very few fans. 

In 1998, Villarreal went to the Northwest of Spain and fought against Compostela for a place in La Liga de las Estrellas. A half-cross-half-shot made it in, and the resulting 1-1 tie meant Fernando Roig got the club where he had promised he would. 

A lot has happened since. Craioveanu and the Camp Nou; Palermo and the wall; Roman and the penalty. Senna and Bruno crying through a relegation. The Mini-Estadi and 10,000 people watching the team back to where it belongs. 

And as of last night, Gdansk. That’s our word. 

Gdansk. Champions of Europe. Forever ours. 

It’s our time.

Today, just today, we own the spotlight of this beautiful sport.

I remember being at school and getting free tickets because they couldn’t fill it up.

I remember my uncle platying for this team–it was the 80s, the Third Divison. Mud and no fans.

I remember Roman and Forlan.

I remember Cazorla, Senna and Bruno, but also Craioveanu, Moises, and Salillas.

I remember getting relegated.

I remember so many semifinals, and so many tears. So close everytime.

And this. I will always remember this. Today, I will be crying either way. I hope it’s because it is one of the happiest days of my life.

Endavant, Villarreal. Always yours.

Time for Luis Enrique to call his Euro squad: How many Villarreal players will he bring?

Whether you like it or not, domestic leagues are coming to an end and summer is approaching. In an odd-ending year, that would mean long breaks, pre-season tournaments, traveling to foreign markets to build brand, and lots and lots of transfer rumors. 

In 2021 and on the (hopefully) tail-end of the COVID pandemic, it means the 2020 Euros which the soccer world was not able to enjoy last year. 

This weirdly placed Euro is a bit of an afterthought for a lot of people, as it will happen fast and furious in between congested seasons, but fans from every country will find a way to cheer for their teams, even if remotely, as this Euro will be the first one held in multiple countries, which means very little chances fans will be able to travel. 

With matches in over a half dozen countries, some of them will get lucky to play the entirety of their group stage matches in their country. Spain is one of those cases. La Roja will play all three matches in Bilbao.

With that in mind, and just a few weeks to the Euros, it is time for Luis Enrique to make his choice: who will he bring to the tournament? The manager will make his final list on May 27th, a day after the Europa League final, and once the leagues have ended.

That brings us to Villarreal. Several players have featured for the national side in the past few months, but there are others who are knocking on the door. The Asturian manager is well known for giving chances to young players who perform well, and Villarreal has definitely enjoyed some of those players in a historic past couple of months.

With that in mind, we walk you through the players we believe have a chance, minimally or almost ensured, to play in the Euros next month. 

Pau Torres: Our local centerback has been featuring for Luis Enrique as a solid starting defender unless when injured, as it was the case in March. Laporte has just recently pledged to play for Spain, which means Pau has even more serious competition on defense, but the first ever Vila-real player to feature for Spain should still be included in the list of 26 players for Bilbao. Featured last in the 6-0 thrashing of Germany last year. Chances: All of them.

Gerard Moreno. Another no-brainer. Moreno is the second top scorer in La Liga, and has a goals per shot ratio that currently almost halves Messi’s (a goal every four shots for one out of seven of the Argentinean). Moreno is also the highest Spanish scorer in La Liga in seven years, since Diego Costa’s 27 goals in 2013/14. Played last against Kosovo in March, where he scored. Chances: All of them

Albiol: Pau’s dancing couple in the center of the defense is enjoying a second youth with a season in which he has played everything and has led Emery’s men to their first final, ever. The experience of a World Cup and Euro Cup (twice) winner will prove vital in the final in Gdansk, but until then, there is a slim chance Raul gets recognition for his solid season with a call from Luis Enrique. Laporte, Eric Garcia, Pau Torres, maybe Ramos and others are probably ahead of him, but Raul has certainly done his bit to at least ask the question. Last he featured for Spain was in the 2019 Euro qualifiers. Chances: Some.

Parejo: Villarreal’s core has had a long and demanding season, and has responded every single time. 51 matches speak to a 32-year-old midfielder who knows how he can impact matches, and makes sure to utilize his energy and experience to do just that. Spain has plenty of talent in the midfield, but Parejo, even though his last match for the national team was two years ago, has what it takes to add to the side. Luis Enrique looks at players having good moments, and Parejo is definitely having one. Chances: Some

Sergio Asenjo: Villarreal’s eternal goalkeeper, and one who has gone through injury and recovery countless times, Sergio has only featured for La Roja once in 2016, in a friendly against Bosnia, and one could argue he deserves another chance to be there. Good performances, the latest against Sevilla with several quality saves in 20 minutes, argue in his favor. A lot of competition on goal for Asenjo, including his rival De Gea in the final next week, but he has earned being in the conversation.  Chances: Slim.

Yeremy Pino is the underdog. The 18-year-old from the Canary Islands is having a great end of the season, and is someone who could prove decisive in the dying minutes of the team’s Europa League final. He’s featured in 35 matches this season, and surprisingly even scored six goals in his debut season. Won the Under-21 Euro. Chances: Slim.

Pedraza has proven to be a dagger on the left wing for Villarreal, and he is attracting attention from English and Italian clubs. He knows how to break the rival’s defense and could be a great supersub, but faces a lot of competition. Another recent Under-21 Euro winner. Chances: Slim to none.

Manu Trigueros has spent a lifetime in Vila-real, and even though he can be reckless at times, he definitely has enough talent to be in the 26. Trigueros has never had a chance, but he is in one of the best forms of his career. Chances: Slim to none.

A local’s take: This could be the most important month in the club’s history.

What is arguably the most important week in the history of Villarreal comes to a close, and a few things have become clear for me in the past few days. It was a week of extreme highs, and it brought a lot of feelings a lot of us as fans of this club have not had, ever. 

The lead up to the match against Arsenal was the most nerve wracking few days in a while for a lot of us, and just as it happened to me, it was the case for many others: extremely hard to focus at work, daydreaming back and forth around possible scenarios, and back to reality, only to float away seconds later.

The match itself was a workout, both mentally and physically, and not necessarily for just the players. I felt my body tense up through the entire 90+ minutes. My brain kept trying to stay in the moment, but I would inevitably let myself think, for just a second, “What if we go through…?” and immediately after I felt guilty, alarmed and like I had jinxed our chances by believing. A few minutes later, the cycle would repeat itself. 

The last five minutes of the match were, at least for me, a “barreja” (valenciano for mix) of crying, screaming at the screen, hyperventilating, and burying face in hands. 

By the 94th minute, I was screaming at both the TV and the referee. “Do it! Do it! DO IT!.” Slavkjo Vincic took pity in all of us and called the match, and my face immediately hit the floor (I was already on my knees). I started both ugly-crying, and laughing. I have not felt this happy in a long time. I remember crying like that two times in my life before. One of them had to do with the birth of my daughter.

It was a pretty big deal.

It was the culmination of so many decades of work, tears, a feeling of inferiority and that we’d never make it, and overall, and as Javi Mata in local radio put it, “Not invited into an exclusive club.” 

Well, here we are. We’re in the VIP section, actually. Villarreal is in the Europa League final. 

One of the things I have noticed in the past few days is that, other than the token half-effort article to congratulate the club and its management, very little has been said about Villarreal being in this final, especially internationally.

It all brings me back to reality–unless we are talking to one of those Superleague teams, very few truly care about what we have done. We are just another ship passing in the night, enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, before it all goes back to:

  • What’s happening with Hazard this summer?
  • Is Pogba PogBack or PoGone?
  • Is Messi staying?
  • Is Griezmann wearing braids or a ponytail in today’s match?

I don’t agree with people like Florentino Perez, who say that the young soccer fans don’t even watch full matches and instead get their fill from other sources only, like videogames and Twitch. I do believe that less and less people care about teams outside the Top 10 worldwide clubs list, and the Top 20 marquee players that dominate the news cycle.

That’s okay, though. I personally feel good about two things: the first one, that I don’t need the viewership, or need more viewership/attention, to enjoy my club and its own journey (yes, we will not be able to afford expensive players, but less interest will not shut down the league). With that in mind, this blog has the sole purpose of informing those of you who love/enjoy this club, not of creating new fans. I’m not that great of a writer.

The second one is that I am extremely cozy, invested, and enamored for this club. I created this corner for Villarreal and Vila-real, and the love I feel for this small team of the East Coast of Spain. I don’t need anything else but a club that represents my hometown, and a club owner that gives a crap. Someone who will not burn the ground where 98 years of history have grown. The protests today from poor Valencia fans trying to take back their own club remind me of how good we have it, and we have had it, with Fernando Roig all this time. 

If you missed these superficial news bits about our club and the achievement, I can summarize them for you below:

  • Villarreal is in the Europa League final. It’s the only non-English club in any final this year.
  • Pau Torres is from Vila-real, and Villarreal is in Vila-real as well. They’re both from Vila-real. 
  • Emery exacted his revenge on Arsenal. Enter #goodebening jokes.
  • Vila-real is a small small town. About 50,000 live here. It’s very small. Did we mention how small it is?
  • Enter Submarine puns, ad nauseum (this is something I have been living with for decades. Villarreal win? “Villarreal launches the torpedoes.” Villarreal loses? “Villarreal is sunk and treads water.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is all great for the sake of the club’s marketing department, but when you have heard the same five articles recycled for 30+ years every time we do something cool, it gets old.

But, back to the week. Token articles about Villarreal making the final came and went. We here can just focus on what’s next. 

Emery was looking a bit more optimistic than I expected about both Samu and Foyth this morning, and even though he was still cryptic about whether the Nigerian and Argentinean will make the final, I did not hear a decisive “No.” That makes me feel hopeful.

There is a final that is played with and without those two players–especially Juan Foyth. I will feel so much better if the Tottenham loanee is healthy and puts on a starting eleven shirt on the 26th. He deserves it, too.

Between now and that final in the seemly beautiful city of Gdansk, Poland, there are four La Liga matches in which we need to simply get enough points to finish sixth, and that’s it. Our calendar is pretty mercurial, with matches at home to Celta de Vigo this Sunday, with the Gallegos not playing for anything and with Aspas potentially not even starting, and Sevilla, with an amazing squad but a team who by May 16th, will be playing for very little probably.

There are two heavy-weight matches, too: Valladolid away, with the team from Pucela fighting to survive, and Real Madrid in the very last week of the season–also away. 

The only team who has a realistic option to beat us for that sixth place is Betis, who has a vastly better calendar: Granada home (too far away from Europe), Eibar away (virtually relegated), Huesca at home (likely relegated by then), and Celta de Vigo away (playing for nothing). 

This points at the fact that we will have to do well against Valladolid, and this Sunday against Celta de Vigo, and see what happens against Sevilla and Real Madrid. Six points may not be enough to keep sixth place though, and if we don’t win the Europa League final, we could end up without European football next year if those two scenarios play out. Unless UEFA bans Real Madrid and Barcelona from the Champions League after all (won’t happen). 

There is a dream scenario for a Villarreal fan in that last week of May: 

  • May 23rd: 72 hours before the final. A Villarreal-subs team plays against Real Madrid, in Madrid, without any pressure whatsoever, and they manage to take the title away from Los Blancos. I don’t have anything against Zidane, but it would definitely make headlines, and it would put Manchester United on their heels before the first minute is even playued: Villarreal’s subs just measured up to Real Madrid and took the league away from them.
  • May 26th: Villarreal win the Europa League final. 

I’m not a greedy person. We have had an amazing week, and all I ask now is that we do what we can in La Liga, get six points out of Celta and Valladolid, do our best against Sevilla and Real Madrid, and channel the energy of thousands of Villarreal fans who have been waiting 98 year for this and face Manchester United.

If that happens, and the COVID protocols keep things in check (A Celta de Vigo player just tested positive, the last thing we need is a key player quarantined as protocols relax towards the end of the season), I will be happy. 

This week was fun, stressful, cathartic, scary, and full of pride for the club I love. 

This month could be one of the best months in the lives of a few of us.

Endavant.

Our First Final Ever.

Those of us who have supported the team for a while, we remember.

We remember the years in the 3rd and 4th divisions of the country, with no seats in the stadiums, and free tickets given all over town to fill the stadium.

We remember fighting to get promoted to the First Division, with a lucky goal that wasn’t even an intentional shot.

We remember the thousands who celebrated in the Plaza Major that day,who went into the fountain, who celebrated all night.

We remember our first goal ever in La Liga–in our first match. Against Real Madrid. At the Bernabeu.

We lost 5-1. It didn’t matter.

We remember that amazing win at the Camp Nou, 1-3, with the Barcelona president weathering the storm against 90,000+ spectators taking their white handkerchiefs and calling him out.

Up on the stands, a few thousands groguets celebrated. They put us in a glass cage in the top corner of the stadium.

It didn’t matter.

We remember the first European adventures, doing way better than we expected, and all of a sudden we were there, in the last rounds, and people were starting to talk about Villarreal, and Vila-real.

We remember so many times when we bent the knee just short of glory. Valencia. Oporto. Liverpool. Arsenal.

That Arsenal penalty in the last few minutes of the match. We did not make it through. We cried, but we were proud.

We remember getting relegated with a goal in the last two minutes of the last match of the season, and having to start all over again.

It didn’t matter.

We remember when Senna and Bruno (among others) told us they were staying, that they would bring the team back to La Liga, where it deserved to be. That we would tornarem (come back). We did.

And we will always, always remember today. The nervousness, the amount of times throughout the day where we played the match in our heads, winning it last minute, on extra time, on penalties. How little we ate, and how shaky we were through the entire match.

We will remember the two posts Arsenal hit, and how close it sometimes was from, again, falling short from glory.

This time, it was ours to take the chance and make it ours.

We are playing Manchester United, who has won over 60 trophies in its entire history, and we are doing so with a town of 50,000 people behind a small team from Vila-real, and with one trophy– an Intertoto Cup to our name.

It won’t matter. This is glory.

#Endavant

[Retro-article] We will come back! Villarreal gets relegated to Spain’s Second Division

Today, May 14th, 2012, Villarreal lost a match in which the team gave what it could in the occasion, in which the fans never stopped cheering in a sold-out El Madrigal for a goal that never came, and up in the stands, where President Fernando Roig could not bear to watch. Lady Fortune felt playful tonight, and a last-minute (and offside) Rayo Vallecano win meant that Villarreal, for the first time in over a decade, is back in the Second Division.

Rayo’s goal came in the 90th minute, and the news of the change in standings spread like wildfire in both the stadium, and the pitch. Atletico beat the overly nervous local team in front of them, and at a time where Simeone’s players weren’t even playing for anything (Malaga took the forth Champions League spot with a 1-0 win against Sporting Gijon), the goal still came. The will to win was weirdly present for the Colchoneros through the entire match.

The image of the President in the stands, with his face buried between his hands and his son consoling him, is now part of the groguets‘ history. Equally dismal was the luck of the B team–after virtually certifying survival in the Second Division with a scrappy 0-1 win against Xerex, Velazquez’s team found out about the first team’s relegation upon landing in Manises. Villarreal moving down to the Second Division means that Villarreal B is also relegated to the Segunda B (Third Division).

It is almost unbelievable. A team plagued with talent is now officially relegated: Borja Valero, Jaume Costa, Diego Lopez, Musacchio, Bruno, Senna, Nilmar…an amazing set of players that will forever have in their record to have brought one of the most succesful Spanish teams of the past decade to the Second Division.

In front of them, Atletico just played its game, led by a Simeone who starts to know what he is doing with this team. Courtois and an amazing defense, with Godin, Miranda, Juanfran and Filipe Luis gave no chance to an equally good (on paper) attack in front of them. Tiago and Gabi managed the tempo of the match, and Falcao proved to be the lethal striker he is. On the bench, some of the visitor’s team players, like Sergio Asenjo watched as Villarreal was not able to shake his fear and lack of ideas. Some chances here and there, but the team just wasn’t thinking clearly, and had his mind in several other stadiums accross the peninsula.

The 0-1 that would bury the team came in the 88th minute. Shortly after, Rayo’s 1-0. That meant that, within 60 seconds, Villarreal went from being saved, to being relegated. That is soccer.

The cherry on the cake came from centerback Diego Godin, now at Atletico and previously a Villarreal player, who after the match ended, went towards the lockers and told The Yellow Submarine’s vice president, Jose Manual Llaneza, holding his index finger to his forehead, that he “Remembered.” Llaneza went after him and, held back by his colleagues, screamed at the Uruguayan player, “You remember? You were only here to go out at night you pr*ck, you are a shameless pr*ck,” referencing the reason why the club had let go of the defender, his continuous outings at night during the week.

In the end, Villarreal failed to go forward and was paralized by the fear of What If. The players needed more will to go after the match and leave it all out there, and less fear and anxiety. Once again Falcao, after vanishing Villarreal’s hopes to make a Europa League final with Oporto a few years back, proved to be lethal to the Yellow Submarine.

The match was a reflection of a season where Villarreal barely scraped six wins and ten ties at home, and 13 points away from El Madrigal, for a total of 41 points that, in the end, were not enough. Fernando Roig has a tradition of celebrating by toasting with the team when they get to the 45 point mark every season–this year, it couldn’t be.

However, Roig is already working on a plan to return to the top flight of Spanish soccer. It is clear that Lotina will not continue after certifying his fifth relegation of his career, and players will come and go; some will want to stay because they care about this shirt, others will choose to leave; and others will not be able to stay, simply because Villarreal will not be able to afford them…but regardless, Villarreal will come back. Stronger. Hungrier. And most importantly, when the time comes, and Villarreal has made it back, and a big occasion calls for the heart, the soul, and the passion of team, fans and staff, Villarreal will choose attack over fear. Villarreal will choose to take what is theirs, rather than wait to see what happens. Villarreal will succeed.

Tornarem

Our first final in almost 100 years: Believe or be worried?

The time is here. In about 36 hours, Villarreal and Arsenal will match up in what is arguably the most important day in Villarreal’s history, and certainly a vital one for the Gunner’s manager, Mikel Arteta, if he hopes to keep his job.

On one hand, Arsenal is surrounded by controversy. The worst home record in almost 90 years, a heavily questioned manager, key players coming back in the knick of time but very little match fitness, and the club’s own fanbase debating whether to protest Stan Kroenke and his Superleague attempt in the streets pre-match, during it, or flat out break into the Emirates Stadium and force the game to be canceled.

In Vila-real, the waters are much calmer, but as we say in Spain, “The procession is on the inside.” We know this is arguably our best chance ever to make a final. After a great first half in Vila-real, we fell apart and finished the match with a bare 2-1 win against the Arteta’s men–but it was an advantage, after all.

As the match day approaches, Villarreal and its fans know that this advantage is valuable, regardless of how it was earned. Now, fans, club, players and the Villarreal world as a whole is asking itself a very simple question that is hard to answer: do we, as a club, finally have what it takes to make a final? Is this our moment?

If you ask me, we do. We have the right manager, in the most successful Europa League coach of all time, Unai Emery; we have arguably one of the top five best strikers in Europe in Gerard Moreno; and we are playing with a slight advantage, in a rival stadium without fans, and against a club in turmoil. I can’t really think of a better setup for a match where “all” we need to do is not lose.

There are other things to consider, both good and bad. These are my thoughts as I see the landscape in front of Villarreal.

Reasons to believe in Thursday:

  • The boss: Emery’s experience as the best manager in the history of the Europa League, including three consecutive ELs with Sevilla.
  • Villarreal’s record to date: The Yellow Submarine has always gone through when winning the first leg by 2-1
  • The club’s year in Europe, spotless: Villarreal is the only unbeaten team in the Europa League, and along with Manchester City, it’s the only team that hasn’t lost in Europe this season
  • The Gunner’s home record: Arsenal’s season at home is the worst one since the 1929/30 season. Arteta’s men have lost nine matches at the Emirates Stadium in the 2020/21 exercise.

Of course not everything is roses, and there are a few things to consider in the not-so-great column:

  • Weak knees: Villarreal’s historical luck in semifinal rounds means we could see the sky close around us if we let an early goal in
  • Get out of our heads: The teams could be projecting on the untested (and controversial) Slovenian referee we have been assigned after the VAR call last Thursday. I won’t write the referee’s name here as that’s my point–it doesn’t matter. We need to forget and move on
  • Arsenal will force the machine: Villarreal is looking likely to re-join the EL via La Liga; this is Arsenal’s last bullet to play in Europe next year

However you want to slice it, Villarreal has an amazing chance to make the final in Poland. If we are able to focus on our match, come out with everything and not drop back and hope for the best, and help each other on the field (especially when players like Mario and Pedraza need help), this could be our year. I certainly hope it is. It’s our time. It’s our moment.

Other bits

Sounds like David Luiz will miss the match. The brazilian center back injured his hamstring and is all but ruled out for Thursday.

Obviously Juan Foyth will miss the Europa League matchup, but It is confirmed that Foyth will be out of commission for four weeks, which means the season is over for him. The muscle injury he sustained was as serious as expected and Juan could miss between 4 to 6 weeks.

Here we go: A fifth attempt to make a final

The time has come. After failing to get into a european final in four separate ocassions, the time feels right, and the team is ready. La Liga has taken a backseat as Villarreal has focused in Europe, and with the ideal starting eleven, The Yellow Submarine is ready to fight.

In front is an Arsenal who absolutely needs this trophy, and for more than one reason. The Gunners need to win the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League, and failing to do so would end the club’s dreams of European soccer next season. Villarreal on the other hand is still fighting against Betis and Real Sociedad for that coveted Europa League spot, and that is something that I believe will give the Yellows a bit of stability through the 180 minutes.

Villarreal will likely come out with Rulli on goal, and a defense with Pedraza on the left (watch for his dribbling down the flank), Pau Torres and Albiol, and the ever-versatile Foyth on the right. In the midfield, Capoue, Parejo and Trigueros will bring the ball forward, and the stars up top: Alcacer, Chukwueze, and Sir Gerard Moreno.

The latter will likely be the difference maker on Thursday. I firmly believe that, with the season the striker has signed, either a Premier League or a Spain top-three club will snatch him up (clause is 100m Euro)–but for now, we get to enjoy him, and hopefully he will show Arsenal fans what he can do with a ball at his feet.

On Arsenal’s side, we are hearing that Aubameyang won’t be fully recovered, but rumors are also floating around that he may be in the starting eleven when it’s all said and done. Lacazette, Pepe and Saka are plenty to work with, though.

I feel as though this semifinal is a make-or-break for Arteta. If he does not make the final, and with the team seven points away from European spots in the Premier League, his tenure in London may be shortened by the summer.

Robert Pires, Arsenal’s ambassador and ex-Villarreal player as well, told Radio Vila-Real yesterday: “I think Villarreal has an advantage–and that advantage is called Unai Emery. He did well with Sevilla and Arsenal in the EL even though they lost in the final, and today, again he is in the semifinals. This is his competition.”

Three-Europa League winner Emery is definitely a good card to have in your pocket, and I certainly hope his know-how and experience will be of value in specific moments of the semifinal.

It’s already been told Ad Nauseum, but the 2005 Champions League semifinal left Villarreal with something they had to live with for 15 years. The time is now to get back at them.

Other newsworthy bits from today:

  • Samu Chukwueze is part of the shortlist for the best player of the month in La Liga in April, along with Betis’ Claudio Bravo, Atletico’s Angel Corra, and Real Madrid’s Courtois.
  • Emery commented on his phone call with Arteta before the ex-Gunner accepted Arsenal’s offer, but weirdly enough, he also mentioned that he tried to sell his house to him. “I had to leave my house over there and on top of talking about my time at Arsenal, the good and what could have gone differently, I tried to see if he’d be interested in my house.”
  • Pablo Mari will be in charge of stopping Gerard Moreno–Arsenal’s centerback is actually from the Valencian Community, and mentioned that it was amazing that “at first I had a dream to play alongside them, and now I find myself playing against them in a Europa League semifinal.”
  • The Villarreal women’s team got promoted to the Liga Iberdrola, the nation’s first division. Celebrations ensued yesterday after the promotion was confirmed, and now the goal is to stay in the top league in the country next season.