Most prognosticators will feel that Villarreal has taken a bump down on the defensive side of the field with the loss of Diego Godin, who had a stellar World Cup for Uruguay, and like his fellow Uruguayan, followed the Euros to what is sure to be a disappointing Atletico Madrid (by definition, that is!). But those who have been paying close attention to Villarreal over the last couple of years - especially to the B team - might think a little differently.
Juan Carlos Garrido has at his defensive disposal a great combination of experience - including two players who got to hoist the World Cup this past summer - and incredible youth who melted together seamlessly under his guidance during the first half of last season. With the core of a B-team defense that allowed only 1.33 goals against in the Segunda A, combined with parts of Villarreal's defense and the addition of Valencia's Carlos Marchena, Garrido has the tools necessary to put together a strong defense.
You have to start in the middle, and no matter how much I hate to do it, that means that Carlos Marchena is first on the list. Don't worry, I will come around pretty quickly (and his first goal of the season already got me half-way there!). Marchena made the short trip north from Valencia up to Vila-real over the summer, trading the ugly black and white kit of Los Che for the beautiful yellow of the El Submarino Amarillo. Marchena is a bit older, but only just turned 31, and should be able to provide a lot of leadership (and elbows) in his role guiding the youth that has been brought up from Villarreal B.
Marchena has 63 caps with the Spanish national team, and an impressive 230 appearances for Valencia over 9 years. Want to gag a little more? Prior to that, he spent three years at Sevilla, appearing 68 times. Like I said, he has a lot of experience. His playing time dropped slightly last year, as he made 24 appearances in La Liga, 6 in the Europa League, and 3 in the Copa del Rey.
With his experience and obvious quality, you can expect him to take a leading role on the team, starting most matches. He should be able to provide more consistency than Godin, Gonzalo, or Marcano has over the last couple of years, and will be the anchor of the defense.
Gonzalo, the sometimes-captain of the team, is the wild card in defense for the upcoming season. It was not even two weeks ago that Gonzalo was headed off of the team, destined to be sold at a cut-rate price so the club could avoid his salary. It all went back to the night before the last match of the 2009-2010 season, when he stayed out partying rather than focusing on the upcoming match. The club paid the price, giving up three goals, and having to wait until UEFA kicked Mallorca out to qualify for the Europa League. But all it took was a memory of the faith the club put in him, some dedication over the summer, and an apology, and the club took him back, forgiving all wrongs.
Gonzalo has been with Villarreal since 2004, but is only 26 years old. He has taken the field in yellow 135 times, usually paired up with his fellow South American, the other side of the Double G, Diego Godin. Godin is gone this year, though, and Gonzalo will have to adjust if he wants to continue to spend time on the pitch. When he is on form, Gonzalo is a strong defender, whose sometimes-risky tackles can save a match from disaster. But when he is off, he can be clumsy and can change a match from a comfortable victory into a red-card-laced disaster. For a stretch of last term, Gonzalo seemed more likely to end the match in the locker room, having given up a penalty and been sent off, than to finish the match.
It isn't yet clear how much time Gonzalo will spend in a starter's role this season, with the strong challenge of Musacchio threatening most of his La Liga minutes. Villarreal does find itself in three competitions, however, and depth will be vital. I don't put it past Gonzalo to pull things together and claw his way back into a regular starting role. As of right now, though, he will find himself behind some younger players on the depth chart.
Musacchio is probably the starter alongside Marchena, but due to Gonzalo's earned seniority, finds hiimself a step below his fellow Argentinean. Musacchio got a lot of experience last year, playing in 7 A-team matches, a total of over 400 minutes. Unfortunately, he developed the disease that was going around the central defense last season, and picked up a red card in that span. Garrido knows him well and clearly trusts him to play a huge role for the club this year.
Musacchio brings the ability to handle expectations, and the knowledge of how to win. He first first appeared on pitch for Argentina's famed River Plate at age 15, and helped them win the 2008 Clausura. Over the preseason, Musacchio has found himself in the starter's role, and the 20-year-old will need to reach back to his time playing at the top level in Argentina to be mentally prepared for the rigors of top-level football. Expect him to start, but to have to play at a high level to keep the challenge from Gonzalo at bay.
Jose Manuel Catala
Catala is the real wild card in defense. Acquired by Villarreal prior to last term, he is older than most players coming out of the B team, and will turn 26 this season. Considering his age, he was a bit of an odd signing for the club, and I would not be surprised if he is only given a short window to show what he can do. I have not seen anything in particular suggesting that he has to break into the first team to stick around, but I wouldn't be surprised.
I don't mean to suggest that he is dead weight. The defender appeared 31 times for Villarreal B last season, and clearly played an important role in a good defense. Catala can be valuable, as he plays both central defense and on the left, and can provide vital cover if there are any injuries this term.
Kiko will be back and forth with the B team this season. Kiko found himself called up to the first team last term when the club found itself a little bare in defense, and made it into two matches. Like his fellow B-teamer Musacchio, he managed a red card before really getting his legs under him. He played 90 minutes in a match against Osasuna, but in his second appearance, only managed 28 minutes before giving up a penalty to David Villa and being sent off.
Kiko could be called on by the A team much more frequently this season, and should be more prepared for the challenge. He will probably see most of his playing time with the B team, but could be called for time in the Copa del Rey, and will need to be ready when Villarreal is short-staffed.
What can you say about Joan Capdevila that hasn't been said already? The World Cup Champion left back combines leadership, fire, and the ability to remember that soccer is a game and should be fun, like very few other professionals. Capdevila became a fixture at left back, almost literally never missing a minute of action since Villarreal acquired him from Deportivo La Coruna in 2007. Combine that with his permanent presence in the Spanish national team, and he hasn't had a vacation in years.
Capdevila plays an excellent wing, and you will frequently find him well up field, stretching the defense wide or cutting in for a strike on goal. For a significant stretch of the season last year, Capdevila was up near the top of Villarreal's scoring chart. He has scored five each of the last two seasons.
And despite his offensive prowess, he is a rock in defense. He won't win any foot races, but he knows the game backwards and forwards, and knows how to play an effective left back position, if not a flashy one. Capdevila will be the starter. He might never take a break. Of course, this is the first time in years that he will have true quality there to back him up, so maybe he can afford to take a break every once in a while.
Joan Oriol is an up-and-coming left back from the Villarreal youth system. I have to admit that I am not the most knowledgeable as to some of the younger Villarreal B teamers, but his reputation precedes him. Oriol is an excellent attacking left back, and can put stellar crosses in from the wing.
Oriol is going to be pushing all season long against the immovable rock that is Capdevila for playing time. While he may not be the most well-known player at the end of the season, or the player with the most minutes, I believe he could be one of the most important players on the team this season. No matter how much we like to joke about how Capdevila is unbelievably reliable, it can't last forever. Capdevila is getting older, and hasn't had a break in years. Whether he wants to admit it or not, for him to stay at the top of his game, he needs someone to come in and sub him out every once in a while. At the least, we need to be able to rely on Oriol to take all of the Copa del Rey minutes, and perhaps a number of them in the Europa League group stage, if we make it.
I wasn't thrilled when Villarreal signed Angel before the 2007-2008 season. But I have come to be a big fan of the defender, especially when he is the "Good Angel" (as opposed to "Bad Angel", who tends to get beaten by quick midfielders coming down his side of the field). For the last three years, Angel has traded time with longtime Villarreal standard-bearer Javi Venta, who has now moved on to Valencian club Levante.
Angel is known more for his offense than his defense, and can be shaky when called upon on Villarreal's side of the touchline. But when he is able to push the ball forward, he can provide a beautiful cross.
Angel will take the definitive lead role on the right side of the defense this season. Over the last three seasons, his appearances in La Liga have increased annually, from 20 in 07-08, to 21 in 08-09, and to 24 last season. Expect him to start at least 32 league matches this season, as the level of experience at right back took a huge hit with the loss of Javi Venta.
Mario Gaspar Perez
Mario has been a regular for Villarreal B since 2007, appearing in 53 matches for the youth squad and helping them move from the Tercera to Segunda B, and then up to Segunda A. He even managed one appearance for Villarreal's A team, an away loss to Atletico Madrid in 2009.
Mario will turn 20 during the season, but will be called on frequently despite his young age. Angel has never shown that he can be a full-time starter. While it is very possible that Angel can do it, Mario needs to be prepared to start almost any match.
Mario is another player that I do not know a lot about. The club touts him as being able to provide a great cross from the right wing. We will see!