La Liga

Published on March 10th, 2018 | by Paco Polit

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Villarreal down and out – how the Yellow Submarine’s season has sunk

From challengers in and for Europe to a team falling down the La Liga table, what has gone wrong with Villarreal’s season?

One of the most random and unreliable teams of the season, Villarreal have suddenly found themselves in a trough spot with two months to go: sidelined from the European fight after elimination in the Europa League, and 12 points from the Champions League spots in LaLiga. The final leg of the season might become a painful experience for a team that has been out of its element for the bulk of 2018. But why is this happening?

The coach can’t always save the day

Villarreal coach Javi Calleja can’t be the one to blame for everything as this is not ‘his’ team: Villarreal’s season began with Fran Escribà on the bench with his training methods, players and defined playing style. After weekday 6, the Valencian manager got the boot and in came Calleja, straight from the B-team.

His effort was impressive in the first few games, moving Villarreal from the relegation spots straight to the fray for European competitions. But then injuries and problems began piling up. Bruno Soriano, heart and soul of the team, hasn’t been fit to play this season due to a knee injury. Without his masterminding of the midfield, Calleja did find an appropriate replacement with youngster Rodrigo Hernández, but Bruno’s absence sticks out like a sore thumb.

Also, individual mistakes have dragged their defense down over the last few months, even though keeper Sergio Asenjo has returned to form with impossible saves that remind us of his glory days before torn ACLs in both knees disrupted his career.

The Semedo affair has shifted focus from football

It might be the strangest reason of the lot, as Villarreal took pride in the way their scouting team breaks down any potential player and analyses every detail both in their professional and personal life. Seemingly, Ruben Semedo slipped through the cracks and has become this year’s walking meme, after starring in one the most bizarre incidents in LaLiga’s history.

After allegedly assaulting, threatening, binding and pointing a gun at a man, Semedo has spent the last three weeks in jail and faces a harsh prison sentence. Villarreal, due to the extraordinary nature of these events, tried asking LaLiga if they could sign a replacement player, with no luck.

It is true that Semedo wasn’t having an impact on the team; quite the other way around, as his performance as full-back was lacking to say the least. But having a team-mate in custody and in the headlines isn’t the best for a player’s state of mind, as Villarreal aren’t used to dealing with this kind of controversy.

Selling your best player takes a toll

It doesn’t seem a smart move to sell your main striker mid-season, but that’s exactly what Villarreal did with Cedric Bakambu. The Chinese League knocked at the door and both the player and the team accepted quickly after learning about the succulent offer: $45.5 million for Villarreal paid on the spot and a salary of $22 million per season for the player, with a huge four-year deal. That’s a lot of money.

However, many fans didn’t understand how a promising 26-year old striker could leave everything behind and leave for a league which hasn’t got near the competitiveness or the prestige of bigger tournaments. Bakambu, of Congolese descent, simply pulled out the usual “it’s an offer I can’t refuse” answer from the textbook.

Since mid-January onwards, Bakambu’s departure has had a devastating effect on Villarreal’s productivity. Over the last six games, the Yellow Submarine has only scored four goals. Last weekend, against Girona (0-2), the team once again struggled to create scoring chances. It’s a problem that is bound to keep punishing them until the season ends unless Carlos Bacca, Enes Unal or Nicola Sansone sweep in to save the day.

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante's news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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