Last week we looked at potential players who might be available if their squads are relegated from La Liga, and that led into a discussion of transfer targets in general. Now, I'll look at our current roster and suggest what changes might be made.
Overview. Remember Sr. Roig's words tbefore the season started? He was adamant we had learned our lesson from the 2011-12 experience and would not bust our budget; we would live within our means and would look to our cantera to help us. At the same time, he said the first goal this year was survival and then we'd see what next, but 'in a few years' we could hopefully do some 'great things' in Europe. Building slowly on the preceding year's experiences was the key.
We should also consider what next year's La Liga is likely to look like. I'm not convinced Atleti will be as good next season if they lose Courtois, and Diego Costa might not score as many goals next season, but they still look to be a good bet for a CL place, and of course the big two will take two--so there's only one left. Sevilla look to be the best of the rest, with Athletic Club and La Real decent as well. As for Valencia, if they can ever get out of their financial mess, they have to get better. So it could be eight clubs looking at six or seven European spots again.
During the first half of this season, we were generally fourth or fifth, and had 34 points in the first half of the season; if we could have kept up that place, we'd be right in the mix with Athletic Club and Sevilla for that last CL spot. However, the second half of the season has been dreadful, which is why we're in seventh.
It seems to me Sr. Roig and the Villarreal braintrust need to first decide which half of the season is a better guide to expectations for next year, and plan accordingly. A related point--which sounds a bit like "Moneyball" but I hope makes sense--is, where can we get the biggest bang for our buck? We got this spectacularly wrong when reinvesting the money we got for Santi Cazorla in 2011, so we need to get it right this time.
It seems to me we are still a ways away from becoming a Champions League-type side--we lack a consistent goalscorer, and our defense is young and prone to breakdown from set pieces. And we are the youngest side in La Liga, and that shows. At our best we are incisive and quick; at our worst we can't keep control of the ball or complete the final pass. We're not going to change our playing style, and we're not going to change large portions of our existing roster. So with those thoughts in mind, let's go position by position.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Asenjo, Juan Carlos, Aitor Fernandez (plus Diego Marino, at Valladolid but with a repurchase option)
A big decision to be made very soon. Do we exercise our purchase option (rumored to be around €4-5 million) for Asenjo? He doesn't seem to be in Atleti's plans, but he has done well for us. The other question is what to do about Diego Mariño, who has had a solid season for Real Valladolid. Should we bring him back as a backup for Asenjo, or as a starter if a deal can't be reached with Atleti? If the former, we'll need to do something with Juan Carlos, who has three more years on his contract. As for Aitor, he's destined for the B team again next year.
Centerbacks: Mateo Musacchio, Chechu Dorado, Gabriel Paulista, Pablo Iñiguez, Florian Lejeune (on loan)
I expect Musacchio will move on if the money is right; I'd like to see us retain him as the guy we build the defense around, but I don't think it will happen. Paulista is developing in to a solid CB, though, and maybe he becomes the linchpin of the back four in the next few years. Dorado is good but can't be carried on to play more than half the matches in a season at best. It's been a lost season for Iñiguez--I'd expect him to be with the first team again but as a backup, as he was supposed to be this season. Even should all four of these players remain with us, we could use one more for cover. And if Musacchio departs, two.
As for Lejeune, he evidently has been injured as he's only appeared in 10 games for Stade Brestois (French Ligue 2) this season. I expect he will be sold or released by us.
Left back: Bojan Jokic, Jaume Costa.
I expect both to stay, though in the long term Jokic has got to take over as the starter. He's much better defensively, gives us the physicality we need to complete with the bigger clubs, and is becoming more comfortable with supporting the attack; Jaume Costa can however be a good backup and give a nice change of pace here.
Right back: Alexsandar Pantic, Mario Gaspar.
Again, no reason to move away from these two. Super Mario has has a solid season and Pantic has been an emergency fill-in CB; we've hardly seen him at RB.
The B team has some defenders who can be called up if need be (Alic, Blázquez, Jimenez, Fran Garcia) but they all seem at least a year away from significant Primera playing time.
Midfield (doble pIvote): Manu Trigueros, Bruno Soriano, Tomas Pina, Edu Ramos.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that we are still searching for a partner for Bruno in the pivote. Pina has worked well in this position at times, but other times has disappointed, and I'm still not convinced if this is the best place for Manu to play or not.
Captain Bruno has had an excellent season, but we've asked him to do a lot--be more defensive when playing with Manu, play more forward when working with Pina--and we need to find a way to give him a bit of rest now and then. Rather than relying on a youngster such as Ramos, I believe we'll add a fourth player here--ideally a tough-tackling defensive midfielder with experience.
Midfield (wings/attacking midfield): Cani, Javier Aquino, Moi Gomez, Nahuel Leiva, Hernán Pérez (injured), Joan Roman (loan), Oliver Torres ( loan), Jonathan de Guzman (currently on loan)
This is a large group, but apart from Cani and Aquino all are essentially unproven. Cani was great before he was injured, has been below par since the long layoff; he should be ready to contribute after the summer though. The major decisions here include what to do with Oliver; we'd like to have him on loan for the year, but Atleti might not agree to that, and do we try to pick up another attacking midfielder to blend with at least Cani, Moi and Aquino? Or do we decide this is where Manu Trigueros should play, and focus on improving the doble pivote instead?
Nahuel and Moi probably will stick with the first team unless some sort of regular starter comes in, in which case I'd expect to see Nahuel return to the B team. Hernan Perez is out until January, after Olympiakos shipped him back to us with a knee injury, so esentially can't be counted on. Juan Roman has hardly played so won't return.
As for de Guz, I can't see any way he returns here. If Swansea remain in the EPL, we can probably come to an agreement on a permanent transfer.
Again, the B team has some help down the road--I really like Juan Cámara--but not yet. Expect us to try to leave their roster alone and focus on getting them back to the Segunda next season.
Strikers: Gio dos Santos, Jeremy Perbet, Ike Uche, Jony Pereira, Gerard Moreno (currently on loan).
Another big decision for the Villarreal braintrust to make. Do we try to go with the striker-by-committee approach again? it worked OK in the first half of the season when everyone was healthy, but fell apart as the season progressed. Or, do we put our eggs in one basket and sign a striker who could become a regular with Gio?
Regardless, it seems to me Jony Pereira should move on, and Gerard deserves an opportunity in the Primera after scoring in double figures for Mallorca in the Segunda this season.
I suppose it's possible Gio could have a great World Cup and we cash in on some incredible offer, but barring that I'd expect him to return.
And then there's the Perbet-Uche question. Jérémy Perbet has scored some nice goals for us this season, to be sure, and he's scored in double figures each of the last six years, so there's some confidence he will score some goals if given the chance. Uche has had a more up-and-down career, in part due to injuries, but his 12 goals this season is his personal best in the Primera (he had only 15 in the preceding five seasons). Perbet goes missing in games for long periods, but always has the potential to pop up in the right place to score; Uche runs his socks off and often links up well with other players, but often disappoints in the penalty area and goes down far too easily. Perbet is 29, Uche 30. Do we keep both? One? Which one?
Finally, Gerard Moreno. I really like Gerard; last year he seemed to be the guy who could link up well with whoever we asked him to play with. Would he be a good fit with Gio? He meshed well with Perbet and Uche, for sure.
I neglected to mention Juanto, but I think he surely stays with the B team--we'll need his goals to get us out of the Segunda B.
A last thought, about striker siginings: As one of our commenters noted, it's hard to find a proven goal scorer, especially for cheap. We did very well finding Perbet, who came over from the Belgian league for €1.5M; Sevilla found Carlos Bacca (also playing in Belgium) and paid €7M for him. I mention that because for all the ink Bacca has been getting lately, Perbet actually has a better goals-per-minute average than Bacca in the league this season.
Or consider the career of Felipe Caicedo. Remember him? Ecuadorian international, Man City signed him for €7MM, loaned him all over the place. He scored 13 times for Levante in 2010-11, they exercised their €1MM purchase optionthen sold him on to Lokomotiv Moscow for €7.5MM. After eleven goals in two and a half seasons, they shipped him off to Al Jazira in the United Arab Emirates, where he will presumably remain in obscurity. You just never know.
Maybe you can catch lightning in a bottle; maybe you just end up spending money and not improving your squad very much, if at all. It's a tough call. (For what it's worth, and not having seen him play really: I'd move Jony and Uche on and sign Stefan Scepovic (24 years old) from Partizan, currently on loan at Gijon; keep Gio, Gerard and Perbet, and see what happens).
Villarreal did a great job in the two most recent transfer windows when they had to--midseason 2012-13, and summer 2013. We mostly stood pat in January 2014; expect us to be more active, at least moderately so, this summer. Endavant Villarreal!!