And so it begins. Or starts over. Life in the Segunda is here, and while Villarreal has gotten comfortably settled into the Primera, such is not the case in 2012-2013. Rather, it is again the goal, a goal that Villarreal have not had to think about since 1999-2000.
It has been a long summer since that May 13 defeat to Atletico Madrid that (along with quite a few other defeats along the way), sent us packing from La Liga. During the last three months, near-legions of our former squad went packing: Diego Lopez (Sevilla), Zapata (Milan), Borja Valero and Gonzalo (Fiorentina), Ruben (Dinamo Kiev), Nilmar (Al-Rayyan), Camunas (Deportivo), de Guzman (Swansea), Catalá (Murcia), Cesar, Ángel, Kiko, and others, as well as relegation specialist Miguel Ángel Lotina.
In return, Villarreal added Ikechukwu Uche (return from loan), Javi Venta (returning to his old stomping grounds), Fernando Cavenaghi and Olaf Mellberg (both free transfers), as well as a number of players from the B-side that can safely become full-time first-teamers in the Segunda, the league most of them were playing in last year anyway.
Add to that new manager Julio Velázquez (in place of Manolo Preciado, RIP, and before him, Lotina, Molina, and Garrido), and Villarreal is a different team than it was in early May of this year. Needless to say, things are going to be very different in 2012-2013 than they were in 2011-2012.
The Segunda, in that there are 22 teams rather than 20, has a longer schedule: 42 matches instead of 38. Thank goodness we won't have to worry about the silliness of European football wearing the club out midweek! For those new to the Segunda, the top two teams are promoted, while positions 3 through 6 play in a playoff for the third and final promotion spot. I do not think it needs be said that the top two positions are where Villarreal is aiming.
The season kicks off Friday evening in El Madrigal (now one of the larger stadiums in the league), against Real Madrid subsidiary, Real Madrid Castilla. A bit humbling, eh?
We do not, unfortunately, have Villarreal's squad for the match just yet, but I can make some semi-educated guesses. Velazquez indicated that Bruno will probably be out of the match due to his ongoing injury concerns, but that Hernán Pérez could be available. Both Cavagheni and Mellberg have been training well and are likely to get the start. Everyone else is healthy and ready to go.
The 18-man squad that I think will be there (for player numbers, which we are all learning, check here):
Goalkeepers: Mariño and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Mario, Javi Venta, Mellberg, Lejeune, Musacchio, Truyols, Juame Costa, Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Cani, Hernán Pérez, Senna, Toribio, Trigueros, Moi. Gómez.
Forwards: Cavenaghi and Uche.
It will be a youthful lilneup, with a few old goats thrown in the mix for their experience and leadership. A couple of interesting things to watch:
- Who gets the start, Mariño or Juan Carlos?
- In the back, it is no longer the Double G, but now, the "Double M."
- Can Javi Venta's elderly legs hold up?
- How well can Toribio replace Bruno?
- Are we capable of scoring?
My best guess as to the lineup:
Javi Venta - Mellberg - Musacchio - J. Costa
Toribio - Senna
Cani- Trigueros - Moi. Gómez
We do, however, have Real Madrid-Castilla's squad:
Alberto Toril (manager)
Goalkeepers: Tomás Mejías and Pacheco.
Defenders: Fabinho, Nacho, Mateos, Iván and Casado.
Midfielders: Juanfran, Lucas, José Rodríguez, Mosquera, Álex, Quini, Omar, Denis and Borja.
Forwards: Óscar Plano, Jesé and Raúl de Tomás.
There must be terribly conflicted emotions in this match. Villarreal have never been able to overcome the Real Madrid hurdle with any consistency when playing their First Team, and seeing the team's white jerseys and shield will keep that in mind. On the other hand, many of Villarreal players must inevitably feel themselves slightly "above" the competition of playing a major rival's B-side. How do you balance that out and bring the right mental approach to the match? I wonder if this match, being the first in the Segunda in a decade or so, might be better for Villarreal if it were to be played at Castilla's stadium, the Alfredo di Stéfano, with a capacity of only 12,000. Such a locale for the match would help remind the players that this was not Real Madrid's A-side (I know, I know, the lack of Ronaldo, Casillas, and the rest of the overpaid and over-hyped nancies will help with that), and might have them better prepared to go into a hostile environment with the right frame of mind. But, things are what they are, and the match will be in El Madrigal.
This will be, of course, Julio Velázquez's first match at the helm, and the fans of the Yellow Submarine will have their eyes glued to his tactical approach. Villarreal have spent the last couple of years wallowing in a functional - or not so much - style, that left so much to be desired. In effect, Villarreal ran away from Villarreal, perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the loss of Pellegrini and Cazorla, perhaps a bit thunderstruck by the flailing Spanish (and world) economy. The goal became initially, win without a concern to how it happens, and eventually, survive at all costs. These have been difficult years - going back to Valverde, to be honest - and the club, having suffered the indignity of relegation, faces a rebirth. New faces will be manning the pitch, alongside a few stalwarts that have stuck with Villarreal through rough times. Everything about this match, this season, is one of overcoming adversity to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity. Velazquez, in all his youth, will have to harness the focus and energy of all members of the squad to the mindset that made Villarreal successful and joyous for so long: play consistent, beautiful football, score goals, and the rest will take care of itself.
Villarreal could come out of the gates full of emotion. I feel confident that the stadium will be full - or at least close to it - as the fans are supporting the Tornarem, especially against one of the teams with a lot of name recognition. Playing in the Segunda is a tremendous drop off from the Primera from a psychological standpoint, and the players will surely be focused on gaining promotion. But the club cannot afford a single night without focusing on three points - they have to take it match by match, without being concerned about the result. Pick up three points Friday night, then three points the following Saturday (Sabadell), and again the Saturday after that (Guadalajara). It will be all on the leaders' shoulders - Senna, Cani, Javi Venta - to help keep the lads focused on the task at hand and not get ahead of themselves.
The match is at 3pm eastern time on Friday, August 17th.
ENDAVANT VILLARREAL! TORNAREM!