Some of you might have noticed that one of La Liga's best and most consistent clubs in recent seasons is no longer in the Primera División. Last season they were shockingly relegated to the Segunda. Don't know who I'm talking about? I'm of course I'm talking about Villarreal who are currently doing their best to win back a place in Spain's top flight.
The Yellow Submarine is currently in fifth place, three places higher than Barcelona B, and look poised to make a push for an automatic promotion place. Why am I talking about Villarreal you ask? Because tomorrow (Saturday, 5 January) at 6pm CET, Villarreal will play Barça B for the first time this season.
In anticipation of that match I exchanged some questions with out good friends at Villarreal USA, where Allen Dodson gave some insight on how things are going in what is Villarreal's most difficult season in recent memory.
If you're interested in my answers on Allen's questions make sure you visit their website or click here.
Enjoy the Q&A below:
Q: I'm assuming that the goal for Villarreal going into the season was to win a promotion to the Primera División. At this point the promotion play-off looks likely, but do you think Villarreal could make a push for an automatic promotion spot?
Yes, the goal was automatic promotion for sure. I'm sure fans of other teams might make the same argument, but really being six points out of second considering our erratic performance, and some fluky goals against us, does give some hope that we can make an automatic promotion push. But we have to put together a string of wins, and we haven't done that, really, all season.
Q: What is the status of crowd favorite Giuseppe Rossi? If I remember correctly his recovery time should be coming to an end soon, so what are his plans? Is he expected to stay in Spain and help Villarreal get back to the Primera or will he leave in January?
Even Rossi's agent has said there no are no plans to sell him in January. He has been doing his rehab in the US this time, so the club has sent less news about it than last time, but the expectation is he should return sometime in March or early April, so maybe we will have him for the last quarter of the season. He said last year he was willing to stay and help us return, and we'd love for him to succeed.
Q: With Villarreal in the Segunda many La Liga fans don't get to see the Yellow Submarine very often. Who would you say is your best player and what part of your game is the biggest concern?
I have a hard time choosing our best player, but one candidate (and a player you probably won't know about, since he was a B-teamer last year) is Manu Trigueros. He is an attacking midfielder who some think might be a future Santi Cazorla--high praise! When we are playing well most of our attacks involve him linking up with our strikers.
Our biggest concern has to be our lack of scoring punch. We don't have a great finisher, and we haven't been successful at creating lots of chances, either. Put those two together and you can see why we have only 23 goals in 19 matches. Velazquez has done a lot of lineup tinkering, and some tactical tinkering as well, in an attempt to overcome this, but I still don't think we know what our best XI is or what formation we should play. Which is worrying.
Q: Have there been many tactical changes in Villarreal's game since the last game in the Primera?
Well, our last game in the Primera was under Lotina, playing very defensively, so I hope so!
Velazquez has tried Villarreal football in the Pellegrini style (a 4-2-2-2), with our attacking midfielders, Cani and Trigueros, playing narrow (the interiores), Bruno and Senna in the doble pivote, and the fullbacks coming forward to provide width. The problem is our personnel haven't fit that stem well--our fullbacks haven't been good crossers of the ball, and the strikers often haven't linked up well with the interiores.
Against Alcorcon we played more of a 4-4-2, abandoning the doble pivote and putting Bruno in support behind the two strikers, Trigueros and Cani (later, Hernán Pérez) on the wings, and Senna as a holding midfielder. Velazquez has also tried a 4-2-3-1 with Perez as a winger, or a 4-4-2 with Perez as a second striker. Nothing has consistently worked. I would expect to see us play the "traditional Villarreal style" in this game, though.
Q: Are you expecting any player additions (or subtractions) in the winter transfer window?
Some subtractions, though nothing earthshaking. Dani Toribio (ex-Malaga cantera player, defensive midfielder) hasn't impressed and may move on; Tito Canteros (loaned from Vélez Sarsfield) hasn't looked fit and I expect we will end his loan early. Young French defender Florian Lejeune is another who might go; he hasn't played for the first team in a couple of months. Same for Gerard Bordas, who has hardly seen the pitch this year in spite of lack of confidence in the other strikers.
We've already added two players, Jony Pereira from Betis (who came up with us) and Javier Farinós. Word is we will add another player or two, maybe a striker or a central defender, but I don't know for sure.
First-choice keeper Diego Mariño has been bothered by an injury and didn't practice, so if our other keeper Juan Carlos has recovered from his knee strain, he will probably get the start. Marino is better at playing the angles, makes excellent reflex saves, but doesn't always distribute the ball that well.
Watching Juan Carlos can be an adventure--he is not afraid to come out of his goal and take chances, and has excellent instincts and reflexes too. He is more inconsistent, and quite short for a goalie, but when he is on he might be the better of the two. Mariño has been backup to De Gea in Spain's under-23 squad.