Villarreal entered 2016 having just defeated Valencia 1-0 in their 17th league match of the season (remember, there was no Christmas break), preparing to face Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey round of 16, and having been drawn against Napoli in the Europa League round of 32. Fourth in the league, 33 points from 17 matches, 8 behind Barcelona.
December 31, a year later: fourth in the league, 8 points behind the leaders (Real Madrid, this time), preparing to face a Basque club in the Copa del Rey round of 16, and an Italian club in the Europa League round of 32. On 29 points from 16 matches. Rather similar, isn’t it?
I suppose if I had to pick highlights of the last 12 months on the pitch, it would be these (in chronological order)
Feb 25: Tomas Pina’s goal sends Villarreal through to the Europa League round of 16.
March 20: Villarreal come back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to draw 2-2 with Barcelona at El Madrigal.
April 28: Villarreal defeat Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg of their EL semifinal.
May 1: Resting starters for the forthcoming trip to Anfield, a makeshift Yellow Submarine humiliates Valencia at the Mestalla, 2-0. No one expected it then, but this turned out to be our last victory in a competitive match with Marcelino in charge.
May 4: Villarreal’s “under-21” team (basically, Villarreal B) wins the Premier League U-21 International Cup, defeating PSV Eindhoven in the final.
May 5: Lots of great ambience in Liverpool, but between Marcelino’s oerly conservative gameplan, Eric Bailly missing through injury, a referee that allowed more physical play than we wanted, and a Liverpool fired up from the get-go, the Submarine fall 3-0 in the second leg of the EL semis. Still, one of the highlights of the year.
October 16: Villarreal defeat Celta Vigo, just behind them in the league, 5-0.
December 12: Villarreal easily handle Atletico Madrid at home, 3-0, with Manu Trigueros, Jonathan dos Santos, and Roberto Soriano on the scoresheet.
Any others I’ve missed?