Almost 15 months after "that" traumatic game vs. Atlético Madrid, Villarreal is on the eve of playing the Spanish Primera again. Lot has changed in the last 15 months. The squad has gotten younger, fitter, quicker and more robust. Our fanbase has fortified and matured, thanks in part to the encouragement from the club and in large part to the fans who wanted to see their town's crowning jewel in the top flight of football. The league has weakened further financially (when I say 'league' it usually refers to the 18 teams below the top-2 unless otherwise specified). The LFP has gotten crazier with their kick-offs (2300 CET kick-offs are the new rockbottom).
There is a lot of uncertainty in the league due to the rash of departures of talented players and not enough arrivals overall. Most teams are making do with loan deals, graduating youngsters from their respective 'canteras'.
UD Almería v Villarreal CF on Monday 4pm Eastern/1pm Pacific 19th August
US TV - BeIN Spanish HD and SD
Over the past 3 months we have played Almería twice. The season finale at El Madrigal where Villarreal won 1-0 to seal there automatic promotion berth. Almería went through 2 rounds of playoffs to get promoted.
With an overall budget of 25mil euros for the season, Almería's budget is about half of Villarreal's budget. Most of their 10 new arrivals are loans or free transfers. The 19-year old winger Suso from Liverpool (on loan) is the biggest addition to the team while Charles, the pichichi of the Liga Adelante last season is the biggest departure (sold to Celta Vigo).
I expect Suso to start as well as Aleix Vidal, one of their main creators last season. They got 29-year old Oscar Diaz from Lugo who scored 15 goals last season. It seems like Vidal, Suso and Diaz will be heavily depended upon for goals.The hard-tackling veteran Soriano will anchor their midfield.
For Villarreal the key will be to limit the touches of Aleix and Suso in the final 3rd of the pitch.
Villarreal has a better and deeper squad than Almería. The question is how quickly they can find a rhythm. Villarreal had a decent preseason. Relatively injury free (apart from Juan Carlos who seems to be back in full training). They have shown glimpses of how they plan to play against Fiorentina and Sporting. A high-pressure vertical style using the pace on the wings and the mazing runs with ball by Giovani Dos Santos. Bruno and Pina looks like one of the better double-pivots in the league. There is healthy competition for the starting jobs especially on the attacking side of the ball. The arrival of Gabriel Paulista means the team has addressed depth issues at every position.
Esteban: Christian Fernández-Pellarano-Silva/Dubarbier-Trujillo; Soriano-Dubarbier/Corona;Vidal-Suso-Verza;Diaz
Normally the first game after promotion is a hard one for the promoted team due to step-up in the quality of opposition and the pace of the game. It is bit of an exception for both these teams because both were promoted recently. That said, Almería was a lot stronger and dangerous with Charles than without him and Villarreal has only improved with the addition of Gio and Pina.
I predicted 1-1 in the podcast but I wont be surprised if nick this one.
Endavant Villarreal. It feels very good to be back in the Primera