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It was only three years ago.....

Marcelino Garcia Toral had been appointed in midweek, and so his first match in charge, against Real Madrid Castilla, was an opportunity for him to assess the struggling Villarreal side he'd taken over, more than anything else. He didn't like what he saw, but as it turned out the aftermath was far more important than the result.

To be fair, this photo of a bemused Marce is not from the Castilla debacle, but it certainly could have been.....
To be fair, this photo of a bemused Marce is not from the Castilla debacle, but it certainly could have been.....
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Hard to believe it's only been three years ago, but yes, Marcelino Garcia Toral's first match in charge was January 19, 2013.

Villarreal were struggling in the Segunda; after picking up 17 points in their first eight matches, they were sputtering along with 32 points from 22, and the fanbase, and the front office, was beginning to lose heart.  Out went Julio Velasquez, his last match in charge a drab 1-1 draw in Almeria, and in came Marcelino.  He'd hardly had time to run a practice before we traveled to Madrid to take on their B team (Real Madrid Castilla) and it was a nightmare.

The Villarreal team that day had Juan Carlos in goal; a back four of Joan Oriol, Olof Mellberg, Pablo Iñiguez and Javi Venta; the midfield looked pretty good on paper, with Cani, Trigueros, Marcos Senna and Bruno Soriano; while Jony Pereira and Gerard Moreno were up front.

It was a disaster--a certain Denis Cheryshev in the Castilla side bombed past Venta at will, Morata and Jesé Rodriguez took their chances.  It was close until just before the half when Borja Garcia gave RMC a 2-0 lead, and they added three goals late against a tired, demoralized, and poor Villarreal squad to gain the manita.

Looking back at our gamethread, Sidarth called it Villarreal's worst match ever; other commenters wondered how the team would respond, pointed out we didn't see any of the quick ball movement and incisive attacks Marcelino had talked about earlier in the week, but many felt the result was more an indictment of how poor the current roster was than anything else.  After that match, we were seventh in the table, not even in the promotion playoff positions.  But maybe the best comment was from Jens, who said "let's see in a month" if Marcelino was working out.

Marcelino clearly identified a number of weaknesses in the squad as a result of that match.   Granted, Jaume Costa and Mateo Musacchio were suspended, Ike Uche was playing in the African Cup of Nations, and Hernán Perez was injured.   The first three would play major roles under Marce as the season went along.

Some players hardly saw the pitch again after that match (Javi Venta, and to a lesser extent Marcos Senna), others, who had been dropped from the squad (Cavenaghi) or were subs (Pandiani) were let go.  In came players like Jeremy Perbet and Javier Aquino before the transfer window closed, and players like Hector Canteros, Gerard Moreno, and future Spanish national team member Mario Gaspar (!), who had been marginalized by Velasquez, saw much more playing time under Marce.

A week later Villarreal defeated Sabadell 3-0, and we could already see the quick, vertical game based around counterattacking that has characterized Villarreal under Marcelino.  And as that match ended, word came in we had signed a new striker--Jeremy Perbet.  We didn't know it then, of course, but the Real Madrid Castilla debacle would be our last loss until May 5, and we went on a blistering 11-3-1 run from March onward to gain promotion.

What a difference three years make!