It’s finally here—our first match of the season, at home to newly promoted Granada. Safe to say most Villarreal fans are cautiously—very cautiously—optimistic after the struggles of last season. The general feeling is we bought well this summer, have an exciting squad, but questions remain about Javi Calleja. So, it would be great to start 2019-20 off with a win, wouldn’t it??
Our opponents: Granada have returned to the top flight after two years in the Segunda wilderness, finishing second last year. They are now owned by a Chinese investor, Jiang Lizhang, who paid €37m for a controlling share in the group in 2016, so the Udinese-Watford connection is a thing of the past. (Jiang also owns 60% of the Parma Calcio 1913 team, and is a minority investor in the NBA’s Minnesota Timnberwolves).
Generally when teams get promoted to the Primera they don’t go out and spend a lot on transfers, and that’s been generally true with Granada. Their two big spends were €3.5m on Darwin Machis from Udinese, who rejoins them after scoring 14 goals for them in the Segunda in 2017-18, and €3m for defender Domingos Duarte, who comes over from Sporting Lisbon after playing on loan for Depor last season. But their best-known new name is surely Roberto Soldado, who came over on a free after a couple of years in Turkey at Fener. He’s now 34 and hasn’t played more than 1500 minutes since the 2015-16 season, but if he can stay healthy and bang in a few goals, that would help Granada’s survival chances for sure.
Diego Martinez, their manager, will be coaching his first match in the Primera. He’s 38, a native of Vigo, who started coaching at age 24 in youth categories, spent seven years at Sevilla, moved to Osasuna in 2017-18 and Granada last year.
Villarreal: Not much to say about us we haven’t already said, to be honest. Alberto Moreno will not feature, as he is recovering from a hamstring injury, and Bruno Soriano is still recovering from his knee operation.
Although I doubt we’ll get the team call (we tended not to last season), we know there are 24 players with first team numbers, knocking off Ramiro Guerra, Barbosa, Bruno and Moreno gets us down to 20. Santy Caceres is surely not being called up, either, and probably not Leo Suarez, especially if Ontiveros is signed today as everyone thinks. So that gets you down to 18.
Trivia: Granada has had an unbeaten preseason, defeating Segunda clubs Almeria, Alcorcón and Las Palmas, English second tier club Reading, and Primera sides Real Valladolid and Sevilla. Put that with Villarreal’s record and you have 13 matches in preseason, 12 won and one lost.
Prediction: I said in the podcast, but I will repeat again: Villarreal 3-1 Granada.