I said repeatedly on our podcast that in order to keep his job, I felt Javi Calleja needed to take this roster to Europe. He’s done that. Today, as reports from AS suggest the club met with Unai Emery about their manager position during the break, his position is more in question now than ever.
I, personally, stand with Calleja here. I probably rate Unai Emery as a manager higher than a lot of folks do and I believe his record in cup competitions (in particular the Europa League) is outstanding but to me you just don’t reward a man who turned a season around by firing him. When it boils down to it, Javi Calleja is a Villarreal man in a way Emery will never be, you see that in how he celebrates our goals on the sideline and in his track record working with the club. At some point Emery will leave for greener pastures, Calleja won’t.
The Real Madrid match
Now, with that defense of our manager out of the way, I took serious issue with how he approached yesterday’s match. I understand that going into the fixture we were not yet confirmed for Europe, and that his intention was to save some key players for the Eibar match to ensure we got in, but the difference between fifth and seventh in La Liga is about 16m euros, and for a club with our budget that could be the difference between being able to afford a player we desperately need for next year or not.
In fearing a suspension for Albiol for the last match of the season, he effectively suspended him for the Real Madrid match. I can’t make that logic compute. Putting a Segunda B player (which is ultimately what Chakla is) in against the champions elect of Spain is suicidal, and it was Chakla’s abysmal pass that led directly to Madrid’s first goal. He completed zero tackles on the night and had three fouls. Whoscored gave him a match rating of 4.57, the worst on the team.
Manu Morlanes was also not ready for this match, and putting him in a two man midfield against the likes of Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos was simply an unfair ask. Bad enough to be outclassed talent wise but to be at a numerical disadvantage as well? He had no chance.
Things improved with Calleja switch to a 433 and put in Bruno then later Santi and Iborra, and we could have had a draw were it not for a ridiculous dive from Sergio Ramos that the VAR we were told over and over again that we needed so badly did nothing to pick up. (The ruling to allow them to retake the penalty was, bizarrely, the correct one, but I think it’s a stupid rule that lets the offense retake a penalty after they commit a violation.)
Samu Chukwueze isn’t a CF. I know Calleja has gotten some good results from the 442 but he simply does not get anything from Samu in that position. Samu doesn’t think or move without the ball like a central forward, and he’s at his best in open space in wide areas. I understand our central forwards are banged up, but to me the obvious answer would be a formation change not shoehorning a winger into a central role.
For those interested in the xG, it was 0.9 to 1.9, so it matched the final score almost perfectly. Asenjo made five saves and I don’t blame him at all for either goal.
We face Eibar, and it ought to be pretty simple. Win and we finish fifth with 60 points. Lose or draw and things get complicated. If I recall correctly (a google search struggled to confirm this for me) finishing fifth versus seventh is not only the monetary difference in the league we discussed earlier but it is also the difference between having to context playoffs to get into the group stages of the Europa League or entering them directly.
With several important aging players and Santi likely leaving, gathering several enforcements will be very important to our ability to compete on two fronts next season. With that season schedule to start in September, in a way things are just beginning even though a calendar ends on Sunday. Overall, we can’t be too disappointed with how things have shaken out, Endavant Villarreal.