One of the hard things about football is that sometimes things just don't work out. When José Francisco Molina was announced as the new Villarreal manager just under three months ago, it was seen as a gutsy move. Molina had no Primera experience and was achieving only modest things with Villarreal B. Still, Sr. Roig was loyal to his principle to promote from within, choosing the 39-year-old over older, more experienced names.
Now, 11 games later, Molina is gone. What happened?
Under Garrido, we were 3-5-8 in the league, with the wins, all at home, coming against Mallorca, Rayo and Betis. When Molina replaced Garrido after the Mirandés debacle, at first it seemed everything would be okay. Villarreal lost only one of its first six matches under Molina, winning against Sporting, Granada, and Sevilla (on the road!!) and drawing with Barcelona and Valencia at El Madrigal.
But then, things began to go sour. It's not just that Molina's men failed to win any of their last five matches; it's the way in which they failed to overcome weaker sides and hold on to points that were theirs for the taking. To be precise, Molina's lack of tactical awareness, in style of play, personnel choices and substitutions, manifested itself time and time again. To recap:
Against Mallorca, a team that was prepared to make a victory against us the highlight of their season, Villarreal meekly capitulated, hardly troubling a dodgy keeper in the Mallorca net. Our buildup play was slow and overly reliant on Borja and Cani, and our defense was sliced open time and time again by speed from midfield. We looked unlikely to score--ever--and were comprehensively outplayed.
Athletic: a 2-2 draw in an entertaining match, though we nearly gave it away at the end. Nilmar and Martinuccio played together in a 4-4-2 and created chances. For some reason, they hardly played in the same formation together again.
Zaragoza: we did give this one away, after dominating the first half but only scoring one goal. Silly substitutions, a stupid foul by Marchena and then failure to adequately clear a long kick as the game expired resulted in two late Zaragoza goals. We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Getafe: we were outplayed and outcoached at home. We went in 1-1 thanks to a controversial penalty, we gave up a goal with 20 minutes left and hardly threatened thereafter. Again, crazy substitutions--Joselu for Nilmar, when Martinuccio and Perez were available--Castellani for Camuñas in injury time. And more than that, our play was just too slow and predictable. Getafe knew all they had to do was contain Borja and we would never score from open play. And we didn't.
Levante: without Borja and Cani, our approach was negative. We had no shots in the first half and hardly any for the game. Again, substitutions were key (for the wrong reason): Marchena saw two yellows in five minutes and Camunas came on to replace Nilmar in a defensive wall, and allowed the free kick to get past him, resulting in another injury-time winner. We were all set to pick up a poor point, and we even gave that away.
You can argue all you want that the players have to perform, and they do, but:
(1) in those last five matches we had exactly two goals from open play, the last one over 250 minutes ago.
(2) We had no plan B. Teams come in knowing how to play us and contain us easily. It's no accident the only game where we were competitive was against Athletic, because Bielsa puts out his side to play the way he plays, regardless of the opposition. But that doesn't happen much in La Liga.
(3) Molina made puzzling personnel decisions. True, Cani didn't start at Zaragoza, and Gonzalo didn't play today, but players like Hernán Pérez see little time. When Martinuccio got a game, he was always substituted first. He did NOT seem happy about coming off today. And Jonathan DeGuzmán hasn't even been on the bench of late. For all I know Wakaso Mubarak may be in Ghana--we sure haven't seen him on the pitch!
(4) Inept subtitutions. True, it's been an experienced player, Marchena, who was most at fault here, but Molina has gone with "his guys"--Joselu and Castellani--and they haven't contributed either. And let's not forget the first change against Getafe: taking off a center back for a striker with the game 1-1 early in the second half. Huh?
To make matters worse, these five games were the ones where we needed to take points. If we had won against Mallorca; against Zaragoza; against Getafe; even today against Levante, we could have jumped over a team or two. But clubs like Mallorca, Granada and the like picked up points and have moved away from us, so we are now one of four teams that have detached ourselves from the rest of the league at the wrong end of the table.
Frankly, the Madrid game this Wednesday is unimportant--we all know Madrid would win even if we were playing well--but looking at the regression of the last five games under Molina, I can totally understand Sr. Roig's decision. It's just unfortunate--Molina is doubtless a nice guy and we wish him the best, but he was clearly promoted beyond his competence level, at least at this point in time.
Sr. Roig is sure to reach outside the Villarreal family this time (Velazquez is righting the Mini-Submarine, but he was coaching the C team in the Tercera until late December). Aragones? Schuster? Villas-Boas? (no, I don't think so, but he's available!). I hope it's someone with experience in keeping a team up in the Primera. That's what we need.
The choice is critical. We all know there will be lots of changes this summer, but if this team is relegated, there will be even more. Villarreal is in danger of falling off the footballing map, which would be a shame. And for those fans who went to Valencia today to support the club--over 1000 of them--they deserve far better than the sort of performances Villarreal has turned in over the past month.
There is only one way to go, and that is up. We hope.