My, how things can change. No, Villarreal have not skyrocketed into the Champions League places over the last week, but there is a sense of optimism that has transformed this side from a truly sinking sub into a club with hope. The firing of Ernesto Valverde after last weekend's debacle against Osasuna, in which Villarreal could not have even been called a shell of their former selves and the fans made themselves known with their whistles and white handkerchiefs, and the installation of Juan Carlos Garrido, have changed everything.
For one, in the immediate future, Villarreal's players (those who did not get shipped off) will probably be much happier, as the locker room had soured in the last weeks of Valverde's reign. This *could* provide the spark they need to reinvest themselves into the season and make something worthwhile out of it.
It also goes a long way to permanently define Villarreal as an attractive-football-only club. Villarreal were made famous under the stylistic designs of Manuel Pellegrini, and everyone just assumed that pretty football was intrinsic to the club. The disastrous Valverde experiment proved that although the style ran deep, the management wasn't opposed to changing things up a bit if the finances were right. Well, I don't see that happening again. No one accepted it, and the management have learned their lesson. They have now brought in Garrido, who has long been with the club as coach of the B team, and who will reestablish quality football at El Madrigal.
Tomorrow, we get to see the first experiment under Garrido. And it is bound to be interesting. For one, how does the club respond to the new manager's changes in less than a week? No matter how positive the change, it is a disruption that will not make things easy.
Secondly, they are traveling to fifth-place Mallorca, who have won every match they have played this term at the Ono Estadi. Talk about walking into a challenge for your first match as the manager of a Primera Liga side! It may not be heading into the Santiago Bernabeu, but it sure won't be easy.
And thirdly, there is a bit of turmoil up front. Giuseppe Rossi will not be with the club, as he has traveled to the US for a family emergency. To fill the hole, Garrido called up Marco Ruben. The call-up of Ruben is significant. After the Wigan deal falling through, no one was quite sure what to expect. But we all know that Garrido is a fan, and Ruben has performed well for him this year. The fact that he was included in the 18 suggests he will almost certainly get the start. Garrido specifically stated that he understands the needs of the B team, and he would not have called up anyone from the B team to be merely a "third or fourth option." Do the math, and in a 4-4-2, there are two strikers. We have three on the bench, so it looks like the "third option" will be Nilmar or Llorente. Of course, I could be reading this wrong, and Garrido could just mean that Ruben will definitely see time on the pitch and that he would not have brought him up if he was not confident he would at least use him as a sub.
Mallorca have not done anything but win on their island this season, and find themselves in fifth place, a mere two points from the Champions League positions. Many people, though, think Mallorca is carrying a business-class ticket but has snuck their way into first class; in other words, it is only a matter of time before they get caught. Perhaps they have begun to show some of their cracks over the last two weeks, after a 1-1 draw at Espanyol, and a 2-1 loss at Xerez. Not that Villarreal did any better playing those two clubs back-to-back earlier this year, but it is a pretty poor showing.
In the first match of the season between these clubs, they drew 1-1 at El Madrigal. In a ridiculous rain storm, Giuseppe Rossi scored in the 54th minute, but Villarreal could not hold on and a 75th minute goal from Borja Valero leveled the match. That was back when we still had real hope for a big season....
The squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López and Xavi Oliva.
Defenders: Capdevila, Marcano, Godin, Gonzalo, Ángel and Javi Venta.
Midfielders: Escudero, Pires, Cani, David Fuster, Ibagaza, Bruno and Marcos Senna.
Forwards: Nilmar, Llorente and Marco Ruben.
It is going to be an exciting match, and could tell us a lot about what the rest of the season is going to look like. It starts at 11am, and should be available on rojadirecta.com, and possibly on DirecTV in the States. ENDAVANT!
And yes, Nick, the snow hit the mid-Atlantic states hard today. I am sure Sidarth and the other DC-area Villarreal supporters are in a similar boat to me, but I spent hours today digging out from close to 30 inches of drifting snow that frequently, due to the work of the wind, was hip-deep. And I am still two to three hours of additional digging from having any chance of getting my car back on the road. The snow was fun, but now I look forward to all of it being gone!