We haven't always played like champions in the CL this season, but every day offers the chance for a miracle.
October 15, 1988. June 29, 1950. April 4, 1983. February 22, 1980. December 6, 1994.
Why do I give you this group of random dates? Because they are all related to what Villarreal needs tomorrow when they take on Manchester City in the third match of their to-date inglorious Champions League run of 2011-2012. That's right, a miracle. Figure the dates out? If not, they are,
(1) Kirk Gibson's homerun in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, as the Los Angeles Dodgers won game 1 on their way to upsetting the Oakland A's in five games; (2) The United States' knocked off England 1-0 on a goal from Joe Gatejans in the 1950 World Cup; (3) Jimmy Valvano's N.C. State upsets Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma to win the 1983 NCAA Men's National Championship; (4) The Miracle on Ice (nothing more need be said); (5) Odense Boldklub's Miracle in Madrid, when OB shocked the world in a UEFA Cup third-round tie by coming from behind to beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.
Villarreal are simply floundering at the moment, a combination of a bad start to the season, the effects of injury piled upon injury, and simple bad luck. At the beginning of the season, before the Barcelona debacle, Villarreal had put together its deepest squad in the club's history. Outside of the loss of Santi Cazorla, which at the time, no one actually quite understood the magnitude of such a loss, the club had maintained its star power over the summer, fending off potential buyers wooing Rossi, Nilmar, Musacchio, and Valero. The club was waiting for its Champions League draw, and the podcast debates in this neck of the woods had to deal with whether the club should try and compete on all three fronts (La Liga, Champions League, and the Copa del Rey).
Fast forward two months. Villarreal have woefully underperformed in all areas on the season, and it has been reflected in the tables. The defense has been porous. The midfield has been flatfooted and unable to maintain possession. The attackers have not been able to put the ball in the net with any consistency. As a result, Villarreal find themselves mired in the lower half of La Liga, with 7 points in 7 matches. The Champions League is worse. Villarreal is downright moribund at the bottom of the Group A table - I can't help but get the feeling that all of the players have eaten their last meals, and are simply waiting for the executioner.
Whether the fault is injuries, tactics, the forced-sale of Santi over the summer, or an innate attraction to bad luck, things have not gone well. Now, pride is on the line, and it is time for Villarreal to show that we are not the minnows that media has determined us to be.
But wow, what a time to have to do it. Manchester City are busting through the proverbial Big-4 ceiling that has been in place for so long in England. To date, in home matches, Manchester City have two very minor blemishes. A defeat to EPL powers Manchester United in the Community Shield, and a draw against Napoli in the first match of the Champions League group stage. Other than that, it has been bliss in City of Manchester Stadium. In EPL and Champions League action, they have given up 2 goals, and scored 14 at home.
And it really isn't much of a surprise. I rarely find the time to catch EPL matches these days, and when I do, it's almost never Manchester City matches. And yet, without watching their games with any regularity, I know every single player on the squad. Not just the starters. All of them (with the slight exception of a backup keeper or two, and one Stefan Savic). Seriously, though, just read this list: Joe Hart, Jolean Lescot, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Gareth Barry, Gael Clichy, Micah Richards, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Aleksander Kolarov, Mario Balotelli, Nigel de Jong, Pablo Zabaleta, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure, Owen Hargreaves. (Ok, I admit, I also do not know Abdul Razak). Just typing that list almost makes me sick. I don't quite understand how they don't score about 15 goals per match. Manchester City: the definition of buying a title.
Villarreal came off the international break hoping to right the sub after the slowly sinking start to the season, but found itself in what turned out to be a defensive struggle with an average-at-best Getafe. The club had its chances, but the depleted bench and a defense-oriented lineup paved the way to an uneventful draw. It was definitely not the worst possible outcome, though, and the club had to be happy to nick a point away from home, even if it was just against Getafe.
The squad for the match against the English-Premiere-League-leading Citizens:
Keepers: Diego López, César and Mariño.
Defenders: Mario, Cristián Zapata, Mateo Musacchio, Gonzalo, Carlos Marchena and Jose Manuel Catalá.
Midfielders: Bruno Soriano, Wakaso Mubarak, Ruben Cani, Borja Valero, Hernán Pérez, Jonathan De Guzmán and Marcos Gullón.
Forwards: Giuseppe Rossi, Gerard Bordas, and Joselu.
Most notable in the inclusions in the squad is Borja Valero, the midfielder formerly known as Zinedine Zidane, who missed two supremely important matches after taking inordinate offense to a wandering boot to the head against OB. He was immeasurably missed in the games against Bayern Munich and Napoli, and the club will need every bit of the energy and skill he would have put forth in those matches added to the reserves he has for this match if they are going to have a chance.
I would love to see Villarreal throw the defensive mindset out the window and go back to the attacking, beautiful football that we made our name using. The flow, the style, the beauty - things that unfortunately we have not seen nearly enough of this year. What I believe, though, is that, with the injury depletions, Garrido will bring out a fairly defensive 4-2-3-1, and play for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. It is, after all, a very difficult, very attack-oriented team we are going against. But perhaps there is a middle ground. What I really hope is that Villarreal puts forth its best formation, regardless of the fact that we are playing Manchester City, and just does what it does best. As we agreed on in a podcast or two ago, Villarreal change formations and tactics a little too much for my liking - and in doing so, we pull ourselves away from our strength.
My diamond 4-1-3-2:
Am I nuts for suggesting a guy who was playing on the C team just a few short weeks ago to start an away match against Manchester City? Maybe. But why not take a gamble? He is certainly on better form than anyone else in the squad, even if he was playing at a lower level. Throw him out there and see if you can get something out of it. Nothing to lose. Who knows, perhaps Joselu could be a spark!
And, to leave out on a bit of a sad note. Due to constraints on my time and the effect those constraints have had on my work on Villarreal USA, I have decided to hang up my writing boots. It has been a wonderful three and a half years with the site, since i started it way back in February 2008 with little hope that it would ever amount to much other than to give me a chance to write about a team I had fallen in love with. But Villarreal has always gone above and beyond. Just as this little club has already achieved far beyond what any of us could have realistically asked for, this club opened its arms to me as a fan, as it has done for so many other fans, and made me part of the family. I know I will always be a part of that family, even if I am not one of the contributors to this site any more. I am a bigger fan now than I was when I started, and I cannot thank the club enough for what it has offered me in return for a few words banged out and stuck on the web to gush about what I believe is the best sports organization in the world. I will stick around to throw my voice in the mix with comments and fan posts, but I leave the site in the more-than-able hands of my comrades-in-keyboards, Sidarth (siempre_riquelme), Allen, and Ravi. Take it away, guys. Villarreal CF, muchas gracias para todo, and ENDAVANT VILLARREAL!