Well, four matches in to the regular season, and three into the Europa League, it seems like it is a good time to step back and reflect as to where we are and where we are going.
To set the stage: after an arguably impressive preseason, Villarreal got off to a hot start in the Europa League, thrashing Breda over a two legged draw. Goals seemed to come from everywhere, and quickly. Rossi and Nilmar were engaged, Llorente was right there, and Jony was promising. Our midfield was controlling things well, and with the addition of Ivan Marcano in the back, Villarreal had the makings of a very solid team.
Fast forward: Villarreal started the La Liga season in slow motion, managing to score first against Osasuna and Mallorca, only to see the lead quickly evaporate. The team could only manage a single goal in each of the first two matches, despite having significantly more skill than the sides they were playing. Things got worse from there. Villarreal traveled to the indimidating San Mames and looked downright intimidated. From the opening minutes, the question was not "who would score first?", but rather, "when is Athletic going to score its first of many?" We were outclassed from the first whistle, and the final 3-2 scoreline was very generous to Villarreal. Following that, Villarreal just had a few days to adjust to get ready for Real Madrid, Pellegrini's high-flying lot, and you could say they did so admirably. The first two minutes of the match suggested a horrible home defeat by six or seven goals, but Villarreal regrouped admirably, even after going down a man early thanks to a bit of foolishness by Gonzalo, and played their best football of the season in losing 0-2.
Villarreal's hectic schedule continues from here, and things do not get any easier on Sunday. El Riazor awaits, with 7th place Depor ready to inflict further punishment on Villarreal. After that, it is travel time, as Villarreal head to Salzburg, and then a return to El Madrigal to face Barcelona's other team, Espanyol.
Villarreal have not yet started the Copa del Rey competition, a competition many prognosticators suggested prior to the season that Villarreal might be primed for winning. As things stand, they are in a great position in their group in Europa, especially considering Lazio's early loss. It is the Liga side that really has me worried. I do not care if you are playing the top four teams in the league, two points from four matches is simply an unacceptable way to start the season, and we have dug ourselves a huge hole if we are hoping to catch the European bus next season.
So where do I see us going? I have no idea about Copa del Rey, but luckily we have a bit of time to right the ship sub prior to that competition beginning. No predictions from me there.
The Europa League is a very winnable competition for Villarreal. They have a great start to the group stage, and unless the team simply crumbles, they should find a way to get another nine points minimum, which I believe would easily secure advancement to the round of 32. From there, we have to see what Valverde can do with two-legged knockout rounds. I think with the club's European experience, they should move forward through the Rounds of 32 and 16 into the quarters, assuming no horrendous matchups spring up. From there, things would get tricky, as eight top teams aim for a single trophy. My prediction? Three weeks ago I would have said a trip to the finals at minimum. As of right now, considering the form of the team, I imagine the team will get knocked out in either the quarters or the semis.
As to La Liga, I am split at the moment. Wednesday's showing gave me some hope that the team (with or without the help of Valverde, I am really not sure) turned a corner. And luckily we regain Marcos Senna this weekend. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to build on the fluidity we showed on Wednesday when we travel to La Coruña. I believe it will happen, though, and we will pick up our first victory. From there, it will be a question of whether Villarreal has the guts to fight a long and dirty fight to inch towards the leaders. Right now, though, I can't see the team qualifying for the Champions League, something I would have put a lot of money on prior to the season (if I had any money!). Basically, we have to try and meet the challenge of the top squad with the equivalent of four less games to do it in. Not easy. I expect the final tally to be a sixth-place finish, and another year in Europa.
I would love to hear the various feelings of the readers here concerning where they see the end of the season going. Are we in a downward spiral? Are we seeing some light at the end of the tunnel? Where are we going to finish at the end of the year?