First things first: we got some significant help from some of our loanees this season. Andrés Fernandez struggled early in the Europa League, but once he was called on to become a regular due to Sergio Asenjo’s injury, he responded. Stay or send back? Stay. Please, Porto.
And while we have Porto on the phone....Adrián López. Turned out Fran Escribá found out he was better as an attacking midfielder (left wing) than up front, and he did reasonably well there. But he’ll be turning 30, we’ve got Denis Cheryshev returning from injury, Alfonso Pedraza coming back from Leeds....so...send back. Not without some regrets, and a sincere handshake for his time with us.
Oh? We’re not done with Porto? José Ángel? Ah, okay. Talk about a guy who didn’t get many chances (only 7 league appearances, 6 in EL). Ángel was the best crosser of the ball we had; he got well forward in the way that Joan Capdevila used to do, playing the ball off the ground a lot. I really enjoyed watching him—the problem is, we’ve got Battling Jaume Costa (tm) at left back, and we have Adrián Marín returning from loan and he needs a shot at making the team and playing—and they’re all left backs, no possibility of playing anywhere else. A nice problem to have. I’m going to put my faith in Adrián Marín and say....send back. But feel free to talk me out of it (and I’d be happy to keep him if Porto asks us to take Diego Reyes as well, pretty please!!)
What? We’re done with Porto? Well, okay....Atleti! Rafael Santos Borré! Promising but young, needs to go somewhere where he can get more playing time. I’m sure Cholo will agree, and look for him to go on loan somewhere else next season. Send back.
The returnees: Let’s start with Alfonso Pedraza. He was great at Lugo for the first half of the season, we were able to use a clause in that loan to loan him to Leeds and he did reasonably well there, but they didn’t get promoted so he’s returned to us. The thing about Pedraza is, he is an excellent player, but he’s not a typical Villarreal player. He’s physical, above all; defends well from a forward position. He can score (6 goals for Lugo, one for Leeds). I think he certainly gets a chance to make the team in the summer, though Ieft wing is something of a logjam with the emergence of Roberto Soriano and Cheryshev coming back. He might be a second striker? Maybe? I think chances are he goes on loan again, but maybe to a newly-promoted side like Levante, maybe, without a purchase option?
Akram Afif. The Qatari international got some playing time with Sporting Gijon, not a lot. If we are short of strikers and he has another good summer (he impressed in the friendlies last year), maybe he gets a shot, but realistically I expect another loan is in the cards—maybe to Levante or Girona.
Cristian Espinosa. Remember? We paid €7m for him right at the end of summer, he went on loan to Alavés where he hardly played, and we worked out a deal where he went to Real Valladolid in January. Turns out (according to the local papers) he has been quite impressive there, and is a key in getting them into the Segunda playoff picture. So my guess is the Pucela will want him on loan for an entire season, and whether we agree to that depends on how he plays in the summer. We’ve hardly had a chance to evaluate him.
Adrián Marín. One of our cantera’s outstanding talents, Adrián has had some injury issues, but went on loan to Leganés, where he didn’t play a lot but didn’t look out of place when he did. He’s still only 20, which is sort of....frightening, in a good way. I think he makes our first team this year.
Alfred N’Diaye: Man, I almost forgot about him! Okay, look. We’ve seen this movie before, and it was called Cristian Zapata. Coach really wanted him, he struggled early, coach got fired, we sold Zapata on. We loaned Alfred to Hull City, who got relegated; not his fault, but it means they’re not likely to sign him. The emergence of Rodri means he has no place on this team; I think we sell him on and take a loss on the deal. Maybe a team in Ligue Un?
Others knocking at the door: Playing for the B team in the Segunda B is one thing, making a Primera squad is something else. That said: Leo Suarez is ready for the big time. He only had a few sub appearances, but got a lot of practice time with the first team this season. I had the privilege of watching him in the final of the U-21 International Cup last May, and playing against a PSV Eindhoven side with a lot of young talent, he dominated our attack, set up lots of chances....I think he will end up playing in the Primera this season, maybe on loan, possibly with us.
Our B team had a number of good players—Aitor Cantalapiedra, Miguelón Lambrich, Felipe Alfonso, Mario González among them—and they’ll all get a chance to impress Coach Escribá and his staff in the summer. But it’s rather like Rodri Hernandez—who could have imagined how he would step forward and have a season like this one? Can one of these guys do that?