Villarreal may not have found its away form, but new manager Marcelino García Toral has worked wonders in at least one area. The back four, which formerly found ways to spurn clean sheets, has now given up just one goal in the last four matches. And goalkeeper Juan Carlos was at fault on that one.
A look at some of the reasons for this transformation:
Managerial genius. The jury is still out on Marcelino's methods. What we know is that he showed Fernando Cavenaghi the door, reportedly for a lack of fitness, and has rewarded younger players from the filial. But the system remains the same: a traditional 4-4-2.
Villarreal has been playing a higher line in central defense, clogging the pitch in conjunction with Javier Farinós in a revitalized doble pivote. And the fullbacks have not been as involved in the attack, reducing their exposure in the defensive third. So some credit to the new system, but it's not a radical change.
Player stability. Not so much. First Joan Oriol was suspended, forcing Chechu Dorado to left back. Then Olof Mellberg got injured mid-match, pushing Dorado into the middle and Bruno Soriano to left back. Then Dorado got hurt in the same match, moving Bruno into the middle.
The last two matches have featured Mario Gaspar, Mateo Musacchio, Dorado, and Oriol, from right to left. Mario's return to the XI after a multi-month absence has been spectacular at both ends of the pitch. A real credit to his professionalism after losing his place to Javi Venta.
But Musacchio has not always inspired confidence in the middle, and Oriol is surprisingly the default starter at left back. Jaume Costa surely expected more playing time in the back four. So it's a mixed deck of cards.
Easy schedule. Villarreal's last four opponents currently sit in 10th, 16th, 11th, and 20th, respectively, in the table. Three are recent arrivals to the Segunda (Sabadell, Guadalajara, Ponferradina), and the fourth (Hércules) is in administrative shambles. So we would have expected many points from this part of the schedule.
The one offensively-minded team that Marcelino's Villarreal has faced, Real Madrid Castilla, put five goals past Juan Carlos. We will have more answers after hosting Las Palmas and certainly by season's end.
To what do you attribute Villarreal's newfound stinginess? Is this the best goalkeeper and back four we can field? Will this resurgence hold up through season's end?