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This was the season that was

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Villarreal v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The season is concluded, and Villarreal have qualified for Europe again, finishing in fifth place in La Liga.

Considering:

(1) Bruno Soriano played exactly ZERO minutes this season,

(2) Cedric Bakambu was sold in late December after playing 15 games in the league,

(3) we fired Fran Escriba and replaced him with a coach, Javi Calleja, who had just started coaching our B team in the Segunda B,

I’d say we did pretty well.

Highlights of the season included doing the double over Valencia and winning in the Bernabeu for the first time ever, and a home win over Atletico Madrid courtesy of super-sub Enes Ünal.

And of course the emergence of Rodrigo Hernandez, though we only got to enjoy him for this season.

Lowlights? Escriba’s last match (4-0 drubbing by Getafe) and home losses to Sevilla, Alaves, and Bilbao come to mind, the Sevilla one especially bad since we led 2-0 before giving up three goals. And, yes, we had an unlucky draw coming up against Lyon in the round of 32, but this would have been a good year to have progressed far in the Europa League.

Meanwhile, in La Liga:

....There are four Basque Country-based teams in La Liga. Athletic Club has finished bottom of the four; that’s never happened before. And Eibar—little Eibar—finished ahead of the other three!! Well done, especially considering that early in the season they looked dreadful (5 points from their first 9 matches).

....Athletic Club can blame sticking with a meh coach (Ziganda) too long for a large part of their problems, but they’re not the only ones. Real Sociedad and Levante ended the season on hot streaks: Imanol Aguacil replaced Eusebio Sacristan in mid-March and immediately went 5-2-2, 17 points from 9 matches, after 9-5-14 under Sacristan; while Paco Lopez revitalized Levante, going 8-1-1 after predecessor Muñiz could only manage 3 wins in 31 matches!!

...with no fewer than nine teams between 43 and 53 points, and those in positions 9 through 17, it seems as though the (relatively) more equal TV revenues in La Liga may be having an effect. That is, the middle of the league has gotten better relative to the top (excluding the top two or three).

It didn’t help the bottom three, though—Deportivo, Las Palmas and Malaga—who finished thirteen points adrift (or more) from the rest. To realize how amazing that statistic is, you have to go back to the 2002-03 season—to find when the difference between 17th and 18th was more than five points (it was seven that year).

And—of course—we bid farewell to some iconic players. Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Xabi Prieto are the first that come to mind. Coaches, too, at least with their current clubs: Asier Garitano is leaving Leganés, Juan Carlos Unsué departs Celta, Paco Jémez leaves Las Palmas, and Quique Sanchez Flores was fired by Espanyol in April.

And David Fernandez Borbalán has retired as a La Liga (and UEFA) referee after 14 years. In recent years he managed to infuriate both Real Madrid (against Atleti this season) and Barcelona (especially in a Copa match against Athletic Club in 2017). I’ll remember him best for being the ref in the tempestuous Madrid-Villarreal match in January 2011 (the Cani ‘water bottle’ incident).

Any particular players I didn’t mention who are retiring?