The club appears to come into the season with a similar goalkeeping lineup as it had last year, with Diego López leading the group, to be backed up by Xavi Oliva. This is not definitively settled, however, with newly-promoted Juan Carlos waiting in the wings, ready to be playing top-tier football. It appears that the club has a decision to make regarding the backup. One of them, Oliva or Juan Carlos, will have to be loaned out.
Diego López Rodríguez
Unless there is a dramatic change, Diego López will be the starting keeper for Villarreal during the 2010-2011 season. For the past two years, there have been constant rumors that he is heading off to one club or another, usually in the Premiere League, but these have not come to fruition, and he really appears to be happy at the club.
Overall, Lopez had a below-average year by his standards. In his 38 La Liga starts last season, Lopez gave up 57 goals, a 1.5 Goals Against Average per match. That is not a terrible stat, but it isn’t great either. Compared to the rest of the league, only six other teams gave up more goals over the course of the season. Obviously, a significant blame for the number of goals goes to Villarreal’s porous back line; in the end, though, the number of goals allowed eventually comes to rest at the keeper’s feet. He did make 112 saves, and had a save percentage of .66. The numbers are not the only sign of a down year. Many people might also look at the comparative lack of interest in his services from other clubs over the summer, as well as the snub from Vicente del Bosque as evidence of his off year.
No matter if your opinion is that he had a terrible year or a great year, you have to believe that he can play much better than that, as he did the year before. In 2008-2009, he had a 1.42 GAA, and made 126 saves out of 180 shots, for a save percentage of 70%.
Lopez cannot rest on his laurels and feel assured that the job is his for the entire season. Last year, he had only nominal competition for the starting position from Xavi Oliva, following the backup’s signing from Castellon. While it is certain Lopez will be the starter (again assuming no sale), he will have newcomer Juan Carlos hot on his heels, itching for his own starting role. While Xavi Oliva may have been perfectly comfortable signing on to sit the bench, not many 23-year-olds are going to feel content playing the backup role.
One thing that you have to admit - up year or down, Diego Lopez has been the mark of reliability in goal for the Yellow Submarine. Over the past two years, he has played every minute of every Liga match. Last year he did leave a Europa League match due to injury, but recovered before the next Liga match rolled around..
Juan Carlos Sánchez Martínez
The club has not yet determined - at least publicly - who will be Lopez’ backup, but my money is on the young Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos just turned 23 on the 27th of July, and is in all likelihood the future in goal for Villarreal. He has played for Villarreal’s youth ranks since the 2003-2004 season, and now finds himself a member of the first team.
While still listed officially as the third-choice keeper, Juan Carlos is clearly the future of the club, and I cannot see Juan Carlos Garrido letting him rot away on the bench or sent off to another team. Plus, Juan Carlos knows how to win. In 2006-2007, he helped carry the Villarreal B team to promotion from the Tercera to the Segunda B. The very next year, he lead the team to promotion to Segunda A, making Villarreal C.F. the only club in Spain with teams in the first two divisions. And last year he didn’t slow down, helping the team to a 7th place finish, and keeping a GAA of only 1.33.
This isn’t the first time Juan Carlos has suited up with the A team. On a few occasions he has found himself on the Villarreal bench when the keeping situation was especially thin. One match, during the 2007-2008 season, the first team unexpectedly required his services following Diego Lopez’ expulsion in a match against Almeria. He was with the team because of an injury at the time to Sebastian Viera. Although he couldn’t stop the penalty that he had to face the first minute on the pitch, he did manage to keep Almeria scoreless for the rest of the match.
Javier "Xavi" Oliva González
Xavi Oliva was brought over from Castellon last summer, and has a contract that runs through the end of the 2010-2011 season. He didn’t see much action with Villarreal following his arrival from the provincial capital, but generally played at an acceptable level for a backup.
Oliva’s signing with Villarreal was his first opportunity to play for a Primera Division squad. While he didn’t make it into any Liga matches this season, he did manage an appearance against Lazio in a Europa League match, and started a few matches in the Copa del Rey.
Oliva is not exactly past his prime - he’s only 34 - but with Juan Carlos available, he is inevitably on the way out of the Submarine’s plans. Garrido knows Juan Carlos well from the years of coaching him with Villarreal B, and I would not be surprised to see Oliva loaned out to a Segunda A club before the start of the season.
There are still a number of questions remaining for the club. Who should be the backup? Should the club dedicate the backup to a particular competition - such as the Copa? Or should Diego Lopez be first choice throughout all competitions?
These questions should be solved within the next month. My money is on Juan Carlos being the backup. We'll see.