Here are the 2008-2009 La Liga results. I have highlighted lost points in the form of notable losses/draws, either for the strength of competition, or because of the way the match went (i.e., 4-4 at home against Atletico) in red. Quality results are in green.
- Osasuna 1 - 1 Villarreal
- Villarreal 1 - 0 Deportivo La Coruña
- Numancia 1 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 0 Racing Santander
- Sporting Gijon 0 - 1 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 1 Real Betis
- Espanyol 0 - 0 Villarreal
- Villarreal 4 - 4 Atlético Madrid
- Athletic Bilbao 1 - 4 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 1 Almeria
- Málaga 2 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 0 - 3 Valladolid
- Recreativo Huelva 1 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 3 - 3 Getafe
- Sevilla FC 1 - 0 Villarreal
- Villarreal 1 - 2 Barcelona
- Real Madrid 1 - 0 Villarreal
- Valencia 3 - 3 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 0 Mallorca
- Villarreal 1 - 1 Osasuna
- Deportivo La Coruña 3 - 0 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 1 Numancia
- Racing Santander 1 - 1 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 1 Sporting Gijon
- Real Betis 2 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 1 - 0 Espanyol
- Atlético Madrid 3 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 0 Athletic Bilbao
- Almeria 3 - 0 Villarreal
- Villarreal 0 - 2 Málaga
- Valladolid 0 - 0 Villarreal
- Villarreal 2 - 1 Recreativo Huelva
- Getafe 1 - 2 Villarreal
- Villarreal 0 - 2 Sevilla FC
- Barcelona 3 - 3 Villarreal
- Villarreal 3 - 2 Real Madrid
- Villarreal 3 - 1 Valencia
- Mallorca 2 - 3 Villarreal
The fifth place finish - as opposed to fourth - comes down to very few quality wins against big-time competition. Although we recovered at the end a bit, much of that was against competition that, in reality, had nothing to play for.
I think the weakness in the squad could be seen very early on, although we were all a bit reluctant to say anything about it. Lining up against the likes of Osasuna, Depor, Numancia, Racing, Sporting, Betis, and Espanyol, we were able to pick up quality points (16 in 7 matches), but the goal differential said so much: only +5, and the only two of those to finish the season in the top 10 are Espanyol (and hardly) and Deportivo.
Playing that type of competition while expecting to challenge for the title, we should have been achieving two or three goal differentials each match. The writing was on the wall, and it hit home not long after. Over the next ten matches, we had horrendous draws against Atletico (2 goals allowed in the final 7 minutes) and Getafe, an unthinkable 0-3 loss to Valladolid, and three consective losses against the teams we had to compete against: Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid.
After a brief period of recovery with a draw at Valencia and a win over Mallorca, the streak of bad form continued in the form of a 3-0 loss to Depor and a number of poor-form draws.
From there, it was up and down until the last four matches of the season, when we finally started to look like a quality team. I would be reluctant to say that we truly played well for any period until the Barcelona match.
So why were things so bad - or at least not very good - for so long? We were sporting 10+ internationals on the squad, and a sparklingly good manager. The players were not coming under unreasonable pressure in Vila-Real, and there was no infighting in the locker room. Looking from the outside, the high expectations at the beginning of the season were not unreasonable.
Injuries were brutal - Nihat, Llorente, Rossi, Cazorla, Senna, Gonzalo, Javi Venta...the list of players who stayed healthy would almost be shorter. But Villarreal have reached a point at which they are playing European football every season, and should be able to cope with injuries. We need to be able to call on players to come off the bench and contribute, rather than just take up room on the pitch.
And thus, I really think it comes down to a lack of quality depth on the squad. I say that, though, recognizing that our depth was not necessarily of poor quality - but the quality of play was surely suspect. Ibagaza was ineffective for the first couple of months of the season. We were all ready to run Cani out until he put things together following Santi's injury. Mati showed flashed of brilliance (how awesome was he yesterday?), but was incredibly inconsistent, and always looked timid on the pitch. Nihat couldn't find the goal with a compass (although he was injured for half of the year), and Guille Franco, who for the last couple of years has been able to put vital goals in the net, was nothing but a yellow-card machine. Cygan was, well, an older, slower version of a player who was past his prime last year (remember he was called on to stay with the team only after we sold Caceres, and after he had already been told we would not renew the contract). Edmilson was probably the worst signing Villarreal have had in a few years (even below the Mavuba acqusition).
Could Pellegrini, Roig, and Llaneze foreseen the type of play we would see out of the bench? In some cases, yes - Cygan and Guille could not have been expected to play European-quality football prior to the season. I definitely did not predict Edmilson's poor performance prior to the season. But Ibagaza, Cani, Mati, and Nihat all could have and should have played better earlier in the season.
But in the end, we finished in fifth place, two points off the Champions League positions. For a smaller club like we are, alternating between UEFA and the Champions League is not a bad result. We were only 12 points off our outstanding point total last year. And with consideration of our quarterfinal appearance in the Champions League, things really were pretty good.
A couple more results in La Liga, and this would have been a thread looking back at a second consecutive spectacular season. But Villarreal has dug its own grave in a way - it raised all of our expectations. I would take a fifth place finish by a team expected to challenge for the title over a 11th place finish for a team expecting relegation any day.
What do you think about the Liga side of the season? A positive result? A disappointment?
A Champions League post will be coming in a day or so. And soon I will have a forward-looking post, thinking about where we can go for next season, who we should pick up, and what changes need to be made.