Groguets! Now you’ve enjoyed your celebratory paella after defeating Valencia, we’re in the group stage of the Europa League. Take a deep breath and focus....on transfers.
Who might be leaving: Well, if you believe the reports (admittedly, they’re coming from Italian media), Mateo Musacchio is heading to AC Milan. But even if he isn’t, he’s surely heading somewhere—Villarreal offered him a new contract and he doesn’t seem disposed to sign it.
Who might replace him? There is an obvious choice, because he’s property of a team we’ve done a lot of deals with (FC Porto). The man is Diego Reyes, and he—along with David López—was the anchor of Espanyol’s defense. He’s only 24, a Mexican international (so knows Jona) and has played two years in La Liga, being loaned first to Real Sociedad before joining the ‘parakeets’ this year. He’s good in the air, which is something we need (and Musacchio is terrible at). The other thing is, his contract with Porto only runs until next season, so maybe we can work out a purchase now, or he signs a new deal there but we get a loan with a purchase option.
Another possibility—another Mexican international. Carlos Salcedo was on loan from Chivas to Fiorentina; they decided not to sign him permanently. A bit of a risk for me because he commits a lot of fouls and isn’t good in the air, but he’s only 23 and would certainly benefit from Escribá’s tutelage.
Who else might leave: Daniele Bonera. I have to say, for a guy who was signed as a fourth defensive back at age 34 two years ago, he has acquitted himself well. But we’re paying him a lot to play in what turned out to be ten matches all season: do we offer him another year at a reduced salary? By all accounts, he’s a popular guy, so I think maybe we do. But if not....
Who might replace him? Gonzalo Rodriguez. He’s out of contract at Fiorentina (which the Viola fans aren’t terribly happy about), he’s younger than Bonera (33), and he knows Villarreal very well, having played here from 2004-2012. On the other hand, he was paid very well in Florence, and would have to take a pay cut to be a fourth centerback.
Anyone else apart from loanees? (They’ll be the subject of a separate post). We could see someone come in for Cedric Bakambu, potentially; he’s under contract to 2020, I have no idea what his release clause is. LA Galaxy may well make another run at Jona dos Santos, who has a couple of more years on his deal, but he seems quite happy in Spain. Super Mario Gaspar just extended his contract to 2023 and I’m sure it has a hefty release clause in it.
If either of those—or someone else--departs for a good economic reason, then sure, we need to replace those guys.
So, where do we need to improve? Of course, we’d love to score more goals. But if Denis Cheryshev had been healthy, Roberto Soldado hadn’t missed most of the season, would the results have been different?
That said, a strike force of Bakambu, Sansone and Soldado needs a fourth component—maybe a Kevin Gamiero? or Benjamin Moukandjo? (from Cameroun, 13 goals for Lorient, relegated from Ligue Un). Or, could we persuade Gerard Moreno to rejoin us? We could give him European football and a substantial salary rise!
Goalkeeper is a question mark because of Asenjo’s injury history. He will be out for the first few months of the season. Andres Fernandez seems to like Villarreal and he really stepped it up once he got a chance to play regularly, so I expect we extend his loan (or sign him permanently). Barbosa could stay as a third keeper, I suppose, or we could look for someone else. An interesting rumor was that Alphonse Areola might be available again, as he is behind Kevin Trapp at PSG and Emery doesn’t seem to favor him.
Apart from that, it’s less ‘improvement’ than it is evaluating what we have. Samu Castillejo had a much better season than last year; he gets fouled a lot and battles hard. Nicola Sansone was a bit of an enigma: he started the season very well but struggled as it went on. Is that because he didn’t work well with the coach, or found it difficult to adapt to La Liga, or something else? Either way, he’s going to be under the microscope next season. And then there is Denis Cheryshev: this season was a washout due to injuries on both ends and niggles in the middle, but the question remains: does he fit Escribá’s Villarreal as much as he fit Marcelino’s Villarreal?
As I posted elsewhere, I don’t see the difference between fourth and fifth (or for that matter, between fourth and seventh) in La Liga to be that great. If we hold on to our key talent (i.e. no major outputs other than Musacchio), then it’s all about adding a player here and there, and hoping you come up with the magic connection to get into the top four (ALL of whom are guaranteed a CL group stage place from 2018 onward).
Of course, all the analysis above comes with a caveat, which is that Fran Escribá has now had a season to work with these players, and maybe he sees some need for upgrade, or has a player or two in mind to acquire. Looking from the outside, as we are, we can’t see those things. Endavant Villarreal.