No one knew what to expect of Villarreal B in 2010-11. Coming off a spectacular opening campaign in the Segunda, which led to the "promotion" of Juan Carlos Garrido and 9 of his players, incoming manager Javi Gracia had a lot of work to do with a new-look squad.
Early results were mixed, as the team conceded at least 2 goals in 7 of its first 11 matches. Things hit rock bottom with a 0-2 loss in jornada 14 to colista Tenerife (currently staring at a second straight relegation), with a few calls for Gracia's head. Faced with adversity, how would our young team respond?
The answer: a scorching 6-2-1 run, including 3 consecutive clean-sheet victories, which has put to rest any doubts about Gracia's job security. And the squad has been without the injured Gerard Bordas for most of the year, along with Mario Gaspar and (recently) Nicki Bille Nielsen, who are with the A team. Midfielders Iago Falqué and Hernán Pérez also are sure to get a chance with the big club over the next few months.
How has this B team matched last season's super squad?
- Weaker opposition. The Segunda is a highly competitive league, but the bottom half of the table seems less able than in years past. By comparison, Hércules, Levante, and Real Sociedad have not lit the Primera on fire, but the A team has dropped points to all 3 sides. And we were eliminated by mid-table Celta in last season's Copa del Rey. This year's leaders Betis, Celta, and Rayo are solid squads, but there isn't much depth behind them.
- Midfield dynamism. After an opening-day 3-0 defeat in Valladolid, management brought in old hand Marquitos to shore up the midfield, but his play has not caught my eye. In contrast, Iago Falqué may have slipped under the radar when signed on loan from Juventus, but the La Masia graduate has been the star attraction for Javi Gracia's side. Support has come from the quicksilver Paraguayan international Hernán Pérez on the wing, along with veterans Marcos Gullón and Natxo Insa, new signing Gonzalo Castellani, and C teamer Nico Cháfer in the middle. With the experienced Wakaso now in the mix, expect more of the same from our 5-man unit.
- Defensive solidity. Last year's B team was like a roller-coaster ride: fun, but maybe a bit too much so. This year, without Montero and Ruben to generate goals, Javi Gracia has worked to instill a defense-first mentality. The statistics are very similar: 1.35 versus 1.33 goals against per game, but our recent form has been much-improved. Jaume Costa, Kiko, and Truyols have been mainstays on the backline, and Spanish under-21 international Diego Mariño is another stud between the pipes, replacing the "promoted" Juan Carlos.
You can't ask much more from a B team: player development, an attractive playing style, and wins. A real credit to management and the academy, and albeit down a level, we enjoy a 5-point cushion over Barcelona (B). Endavant!