Part 2/4 in our player personnel series. Part 1 was on goalkeepers; maddi really chose the tough one. I'm labeling Montero as a midfielder and Fuster a striker, based on where they have featured in the preseason. But that designation is subject to Garrido's whims.
Borja Valero: The club's shiny new offseason signing, Borja is a natural for Villarreal's patented doble pivote; he will be the distributor to Bruno's ballwinner. It will take some time to adjust to Garrido's system, especially with his preseason niggles, but a lot of the team's success rides on Borja's shoulders. Is he up for the challenge?
Bruno Soriano: The newest member of La Furia Roja, Bruno is a late bloomer at 26. He showed flashes in the past but finally put things together in 2009-10, showing Sebastián Eguren the door. His nonchalant back passes and turns always scare me, but my fear has diminished over time. Let's see if 2010-11 is a breakout year or sophomore slump.
Rubén Cani: Perhaps the most vulnerable member of the expected starting XI, based on his streakiness. Fairly or not, Cani has earned a reputation as a small-game player; when Real Madrid or Barcelona takes the pitch, he shrinks from the challenge. Cani faces stiff competition from B teamers past and present. A big part of Villarreal's runner-up finish in 2007-08, Cani could be on the move if this season does not pan out.
Santi Cazorla: The most unassuming star in Spanish football. Beloved by his teammates for his humility and ability, Santi is indisputably the club's best player. Keeping him on the pitch in 2010-11 is essential to a title run or top-four finish in La Liga. Santi can do it all on the field and is becoming a leader off it. Having resisted Real Madrid's advances in 2008, expect the 25-year-old to spearhead Villarreal for years.
Likely bench players:
Cristóbal Márquez: An intriguing player. Cristóbal is not as skilled as Cazorla, but he does possess a similar dynamism. Late in a match, he could make the difference. On the other hand, the club has not had success with this sort of player (see Matías Fernández, Damián Escudero). If all goes well, Cristóbal could challenge Cani for a starting spot; if not, he could be on his way out.
Javi Matilla: With Matilla, it's a matter of when, not if. He's a star in the making, possessing great field vision and game management skills. Senna's age will provide an opening for him and fellow B teamer Marcos Gullón. Matilla was a man among boys in the Segunda, so a year of training with the A team and somewhat sporadic playing time still is best for his development.
Jefferson Montero: Ask a South American soccer fan, and they will tell you about Montero. He didn't play in the Ecuadorean top flight only because teams were afraid to lose him when European clubs came calling. 9 goals in the Segunda last season was just a glimpse of his immense talent. He needs to curb the tendency to go it alone, but La Liga is in store for a treat. The most exciting Villarreal player since Diego Forlán.
Marcos Senna: Professional football is a cutthroat business. Senna went from starring in Euro 2008 to watching the 2010 World Cup at home. Injuries played a big part, but so did age and diminishing ability. He's still the captain when on the pitch, but his presence isn't guaranteed any longer. Enjoy his splendid free kicks this season while you can.