Welcome to the latest feature on Barca Blaugranes, where we "Meet the Contenders" .Here I will be conducting interviews with the opposition, featuring bloggers from all over the world. First up is Allen Dodson of Villarreal USA, the SBN blog for the Yellow Submarine.
Always a pleasure to work with, Allen is one of three managers for Villarreal USA, and be sure to check out the site, it’s always good to keep an eye on the enemy! Joking aside, Villarreal are certainly my second-favourite team in Spain, and under the tutelage of Juan Carlos Garrido, they play entertaining football, which is always a bonus.
The full interview can be found after the jump, but first, let’s get to know Allen a little better...
How long have you been a supporter of Villarreal?
I started paying attention to them with their CL semifinal run, but really I'd say I've been a supporter since the 2007-8 season.
Who would you say is your favourite player?
That's a tough one. Marcos Senna is the guy who really made me pay attention to the club. I suppose Borja Valero might be my favorite because of his play, and I enjoy his twitter comments!!
Are you a fan of any other clubs?
Port Vale (English 4th division)--does that count? :)
So then, Villarreal have to face Odense of Denmark before they can qualify for the group and I have to know: what was your gut reaction to the draw? Surely it was quite favourable, as no offense to Odense, but Villarreal have got to be favourites for this one...
My immediate reaction was I was glad it was not Rubin Kazan. I was actually hoping to face Twente again because they were a known quantity to us. Odense is favorable, yes, and we should progress, but sometimes beating the teams you should beat is tough for Villarreal. I think we'll be OK though.
What do you expect from Villarreal this time round? Obviously the Yellow Submarine did pretty darn well last time they qualified for the competition, could a similar shock be on the cards?
It could be, but I think it depends partly on who is in our group and the draw afterwards. I think we can probably finish second in our group and qualify for the knockout round, after that who knows. I think probably the round of 16 or 8 is as far as we get this time.
If you had to pick one of your players, who would you say is the Key Man?
Giuseppe Rossi--when he's on we do very well. last year when he wore down our goal scoring dried up. There are others who play key roles, but he is the most key.
For all those unfamiliar with Villarreal, what would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of your team?
A strength is our attacking prowess, with Nilmar and Rossi up front and a midfield featuring Borja Valero, Cani, and Senna among others. When we are playing well we are a bit like Barcelona in style but with more forward thrust, we're not as interested in slowly exploiting the opposition through numerous short passes as we are opening them up quickly.
We do tend to struggle against teams that pack 8-9 men behind the ball and don't let us use our pace so much. Defensively, we can be prone to counterattacks because our back four is not that fast (except for new man Zapata) and we were very susceptible to set pieces and headed goals from close range last year. We're hoping Zapata's height helps us against those as well.
Any young players to watch out for that could be on a "break-out year"?
Several, the main ones being midfielders Wakaso Mubarak and Hernán Pérez. Wakaso is raw but talented--he's become a quick fan favorite. He may pick up a yellow card for a bad foul, he may slam an incredible shot on goal from distance, but either way you'll know when he's out there.
Perez is newly promoted from the B team, but played for Paraguay in the Copa America and against the US in a friendly earlier this year. I think it's probably early to say he'll have a breakout year, but if he plays well Coach Garrido will give him more time to impress.
And finally, at age 30 'breakout' might not be exactly the right term, but this could be the year for Cani to shine. He played really well over the last half of last season and with Santi Cazorla gone he'll be more important this year.
Stepping aside from Villarreal, who do you think are the "dark horses" in Spain this year?
Not sure how much of "dark horses" they are, but I think our rivals Valencia did some good business this summer and will be tough again; Malaga has of course splashed money all over the place and the question I think will be how quickly they can jell; they also have the advantage of not being in Europe so their players will be better rested over the course of the season. But probably my dark horse is Athletic Bilbao: with Muinain, Llorente, Javi Martinez, and now Ander Herrera, and with new coach Bielsa, the Basques will compete for the top 4 this year.
Obviously this is Barcelona blog, and we have to ask: How far do you think Barcelona will go? Is it feasible to think that Guardiola’s team could retain their crown?
Last year I predicted Barca to win the league; this year I'm not so sure. Mourinho has a year under his belt at Madrid, he has more of the team that he wants, and I am not convinced that splashing about so much money for Cesc and Sanchez was all that wise. So I'm going to say Real Madrid to win La Liga, Barcelona to win Champions League again.
Who do you think will win the UEFA trophies this season?
See above. I think the final four will be Barca, Madrid, Man Utd, and Man City. The Italian and German clubs just don't seem that strong to me this year. Elsewhere, in the Europa League, it might well be a team like Paris Saint-Germain, big spenders in the off-season.
A huge thanks to Allen for his time and effort on this, and be sure to check out Villarreal USA’s latest podacst for an extended preview of that Champions League qualifier. I for one will be watching their match before the second Clasico, and I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t!
Endavant Villarreal and Visca el Barca!
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