Villarreal begins its 19th season in the Primera División tomorrow with a home tie against Real Sociedad. It’s been a busy summer, with early signings and recent departures, and the team still isn’t totally decided. (Coach Calleja is waiting to name his squad for the game until Carlos Bacca is officially registered). The Yellow Submarine haven’t finished worse than sixth each season since returning to the Primera in 2013, and expectations are high for another good season, though to many supporters, including me, the lack of depth at the back is worrisome.
Real Sociedad have a long and distinguished history; since returning to the Primera in 2010 they have qualified for Europe in two of the eight years and made it to the Copa del Rey semis in another year. They have a new coach, Asier Garitano, who worked miracles at Leganés over a five-year period.
Garitano is likely to focus on defense more than his predcessors; La Real were actually third in the league in goals scored last year (66) but allowed 59 (joint fifteenth worst). Big sales were Iñigo Martinez and Carlos Vela, who left in January of last year, and this summer, Álvaro Odriozola moved to Real Madrid for €40m. Some of that money has been reinvested in ex-Newcastle and Osasuna midfielder Mikel Moreno, some in Mexican defender Hector Moreno, who came over from Roma.
Scoring has not been a problem, though; Willian José and Mikel Oyarzabal both return, and in midfield, long-serving club servants David Zurutuza and Asier Illaramendi are still there. Xabi Prieto is not; he retired at the end of last season. It won’t seem like La Real without him—he played over 500 matches for them in all competitions.
Last season: La Real struggled on the road, especially in the latter part of the season. We met in the second match of the season at Anoeta (Escribá being our coach at the time) and lost 3-0; when we played at the Ceramica in late January, we won 4-2, with three goals in the first 20 minutes (Victor Ruiz, Fornals and Bacca).
Prediction: Hard to say with nothing to go on. I’m going to say 3-2 to Villarreal just on the assumption we’ll be pretty dangerous in attack against their defense, and they’ll have chances against us. It should be a wide-open affair.