Villarreal's fourth place finish wasn't built on scoring goals--we were 14th in the league at that--but on defense, where we were joint fourth best. Sergio Asenjo's injury late last year meant that we needed a caretaker goalkeeper while he recovered, and Alphonse Areola was far more than that.
Areola started 37 matches for Villarreal (32 in La Liga). In the league, he posted 15 clean sheets to go along with a 17-8-7 record. He allowed 26 goals and made 79 saves.
Areola was phenomenal, pretty much. He commanded his area very well, his positioning and reflexes were excellent, and he was as commanding a keeper for Villarreal as I've seen in a long time. It's hard to remember him giving up a soft goal--in fact, I'm not sure he did. Areola was a much more dynamic keeper than most in Spain, being willing to come out from his box to punch the ball away, which occasionally might not have been the best play. I suppose his long kicking might have been the other part of his game that could use some work, but that is being nitpicky. Bottom line, we picked him up on a one-year deal from Paris Saint Germain, and it was a brilliant move. Grade: A
Sergio Asenjo found his way back into the lineup late in the year (4 matches in La Liga, 3 in the Europa League) and his introduction into the starting lineup was seamless. Two of those four matches in the league were clean sheets, and while his save ratio was a bit lower (five goals allowed, seventeen saves) his concentration and shot-stopping abilities were excellent. Villarreal only went 1-2-1 in the four matches he played, but that was more a function of our sputtering offense than anything else. He'll clearly be our #1 keeper going into 2016-17, and if whoever replaces VDB as Spain National Team coach can put Iker Casillas out to pasture, Asenjo should be a regular callup for the national side based on his success with the Yellow Submarine. Grade: A-
Mariano Barbosa was a neat story--the Argentine goalkeeper was a 2005 purchase by Villarreal from Banfield for €2m, but we let him go to Recreativo Huelva on a free transfer in 2007, obtaining him on another free from Sevilla last summer. He was great in training, we were told, and was our starting keeper in the Europa League group stage (4-1-1, 6 goals allowed) but wasn't used in the knockout rounds. With fourth place achieved, he started our last two la Liga matches (4 goals allowed, 11 saves) which were both losses.
Unlike our other two keepers, Barbosa seemed to suffer from concentration lapses--or at least, an inability to keep out a long shot now and then that really should not have been problematic. He's still only 31 and under contract for another season, and I suspect if he played more often he would be sharper. He was still better than some other #2 choices we've had, so Grade: B-
Thomas McIlroy will be up next with the defenders, about whom there are many more statistics to ponder and permutations to discuss!!