Well, folks, it's come to this. The Primera team that this spring was a major player in Europe and qualified for the Champions league has to beat a Segunda B team at home--and it's not going to be easy.
If Juan Carlos Garrido is to remain as coach, Villarreal has to win this game--and not just win it, but dominate and play well. On the surface this might seem a simple enough assignment, but we all remember the Celta disaster two seasons ago, when Villarreal drew 1-1 in the away leg, then played a horrible, negative game at home, playing for a 0-0 result. A penalty in injury time gave Celta the win, and not much later then-coach Valverde was out, replaced by the man who is on trial now.
Garrido's B team had already beaten Celta that year, and when he took over the first squad he did well enough to get us into Europe (eventually, once UEFA had ruled Mallorca ineligible). But this year? No points from the Champions League group games, 17th in the table in La Liga.
What has kept Garrido in his job to this point, then? Some mixture of the following:
(a) loyalty to a coach who has come up through the Villarreal ranks and is a close friend of VP Roig Negueroles, coupled with Sr. Roig's general reluctance to make changes at the top. He's only fired four coaches in 15 years, which by Spanish standards is few. (Of course, he did fire three coaches in six years before Pellegrini showed up.)
(b) economic realities--do we really want to fire Garrido and owe him the remainder of his contract, plus hire a new coach? Especially since barring a miracle or ten, we're not going to make it into Europe anyway, so surviving in La Liga is the only real goal now (as Diego López admitted today).
(c) a feeling that the unsettled offseason and injuries to key players were primarily to blame for the slow start. That excuse is wearing thin now.
(d) the belief that the players are more to blame than the coach for the results so far--but the way the Osasuna match played out, I don't think this factors much into the mix anymore. Garrido's tactics, substitutions, personnel decisions--all are increasingly criticized for good reason.
Sr. Roig praised Garrido 6 weeks ago and said his job was safe, but it's quite clear he's not saying that any more. And by all accounts Garrido's press conference today didn't have the usual prepared paragraphs from the coach--he understands he has to win this game to have any chance of keeping his job.
Normally I would give you the team list, but our beleaguered coach is waiting to name the team until tomorrow morning.
As for Mirandés, they showed in the first leg why they are leading their Segunda B group--they ran at the Yellow Submarine and created numerous scoring opportunities. But they were only able to finish off one of those, when they could have had at least three more on the night. This lower division-quality finishing, and a bit of luck, saved us.
Since that game Mirandes has lost their unbeaten record, going down 1-0 at home to Deportivo Alavés on Sunday. Did the first leg take more than we realized out of their team, or were they guilty of looking past the Basque side to Wednesday's match in El Madrigal? It's hard to know.
But for what it's worth, they haven't scored in their last two Segunda B matches. And surely our defense is better than those of Real Union and Alavés. Isn't it?
The keys to the game (or pretty much any Villarreal game these days)
You don't have to understand much about the sport to identify Villarreal's problems. Successful teams in knockout competitions are built on strong defense first of all--remember, during our 2005-06 run to the Champions League semifinals we never allowed more than one goal at home in a match. Compare that to our defensive frailties now.
Plus, our attack has dried up with the departure of Cazorla and the injury to Rossi. Even last year when we were winning, we were handing opponents chances to score, but we were able to score 2 or more goals consistently enough. This year, we've started badly but have gotten worse. We scored 2 goals in 3 of the first 6 La Liga games this season--and we were complaining about the attack then! In our last 10 league games, we have scored 2 goals exactly ONCE--against Rayo at home, in the first match after Rossi went down.
And frankly, it hasn't much mattered who we've played in our side, or who the opposition has been. (Since that game, we've played 10 games in all competitions, and not scored more than a goal in any of them). We struggle to convert possession into shots and goals, while we make at least one elementary defensive mistake per game. How we fare in this game, then, is probably going to turn on three things:
(1) The mood of the Villarreal players, coach, and fans in the stadium has got to be positive. Now more than ever, as Maddog writes in his fanpost, is the time to be 150% behind the team, not whistling Garrido, de Guzmán, or whoever. Garrido might not remain as coach even if Villarreal wins this, he's certainly gone if we don't, but that's no reason not to cheer for a win. And as far as the players and coach are concerned, if we play scared, afraid of some disaster, the disaster will happen. It has game after game so far.
(2) Our two front men have to play well off each other and link up with midfield better than we've seen. Even the positive play against Osasuna usually lacked that final understanding among players to create a scoring opportunity.
(3) We need to limit unforced giveaways in the middle of the pitch. These generally lead to quick counterattacks, exposing our lack of pace at the back as well as our propensity to defensive errors. Against Osasuna, their first goal came from just such a giveaway, and the opportunity that led to the corner and their second goal did as
If all those things happen, AND if Garrido can let the team try to extend its lead if/when it gets one instead of going all defensive, which never works with this team, we should be fine. That's not asking for much, is it?
Regardless of your feelings about the coach, let's hope for a win tonight. It won't make the pressure on Garrido go away, it might not even save his job, but it's better than the alternative. Endavant Villarreal!!!