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Season Recap: #2 Gonzalo Rodríguez

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Now find the ball, Gonzalo.
Now find the ball, Gonzalo.

Our 2010-11 season recap series will spotlight every significant contributor for the submarino amarillo. We will proceed in numerical order. First up is #2, Gonzalo Rodríguez.

There are pivotal points in every season. Sometimes you appreciate their importance at the time, but in other cases, the effects simmer under the surface. Take our 5-1 victory over FC Twente in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, for instance.

In the 70th minute, with the tie all but decided at 4-0 to Villarreal, center back Gonzalo Rodríguez intercepted an errant pass and started upfield. Giant Twente striker Marc Janko pursued the Argentine defender and attempted to slide-tackle the ball away. Whether out of frustration or merely awful timing, Janko missed the ball and caught the man, breaking Gonzalo's left leg (warning: the image is a bit gruesome).

The debate after the match surrounded the referee's curious award of only a yellow card for the brutal challenge. And Janko scored in the dying minutes, of course. Though Villarreal comfortably progressed to the Europa League semifinals, defeating the Dutch side 8-2 on aggregate, the damage was done. How Gonzalo's injury played out is an important storyline in Villarreal's 2010-11 campaign.

Life post-Gonzalo began with our worst defeat of the season, an unsanctimonious 5-0 thrashing at the Mestalla by local rivals Valencia. That game saw the return of B teamer Kiko Olivas to our backline. While Kiko has the size to be successful, he has never quite put things together, and the Spanish top flight is not a place to learn.

Gonzalo's injury also forced Carlos Marchena out of the midfield, where he had begun to form a solid partnership with Bruno Soriano. The doble pivote, which so had missed Marcos Senna for most of the season, finally was working after failed spells involving Borja Valero and Javier Matilla. A 3-2 loss in Sevilla, with Marchena out of place on multiple occasions and eventually sent off, typified his inconsistency post-Gonzalo.

Even Mateo Musacchio, previously our most reliable defender, fell off in the season's final month. The climax was the second half in Porto, when the Portuguese side scored 5 times to virtually book its place in the Europa League final. Hardly a match off for the young Argentine, and it showed down the stretch.

José Manuel Catalá also tried the middle, but his comfort zone is at left back. And with Joan Capdevila showing signs of age and fatigue, we need our "old rookie" on the flank.

Summary: Villarreal was unable to adequately replace a player on the verge of being released over the summer. An incredible story, a testament both to Gonzalo's work ethic and our lack of squad depth.

When he did play, Gonzalo was a rock in the back. He struggled a bit early on, rounding into form after a short summer. And he was awful against Sporting, conceding a penalty in both matches and earning his marching orders at El Molinón. But by the segunda vuelta, Gonzalo was an undisputed starter, allowing the central defenders to rotate and Marchena to play in midfield.

Interesting statistic: Villarreal did not lose in La Liga with Gonzalo in the starting XI until jornada 18 at the Bernabéu. The team previously had lost away to Real Sociedad, Barcelona, and Getafe, but the Argentine defender did not start any of those matches.

Ratings: How did Gonzalo Rodríguez fare in 2010-11? Rate him on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations. If he had the best year you could have imagined, give him a 9-10; if he played as expected, give him a 5-6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined, give him a 1-2. (h/t to JapersRink for the thorough methodology)