Geez, yesterday was frustrating. But really, outside of the Celta match on January 8th (and I guess the Zamora match on the 5th), I can’t say I’ve really enjoyed Villarreal football in the last month. Sure, we beat Tenerife and Girona, but we made both matches much harder than they needed to be... and then in the league we are just inventing new ways to come up with draws at this point. It’s baffling. I thought missing a penalty at the end of the Granada match was bad and then that nonsense with Real Sociedad happened...
Basically, here’s where we are at. We are four points out of 4th, and Sevilla have a game in hand on us, so fifth place for what feels like the 37th time seems to be what we are aiming at in the league. We missed a golden gift wrapped opportunity to get into the Copa Semi-Finals for the second year in a row. I guess that’s an improvement over four straight years of going out in the round of 16, but it sure doesn’t much feel like it. In Europe we face RB Salzburg, a team that when the draw happened I was very confident we could beat, now I half expect us to draw both legs and go out on away goals... it’s very, very frustrating.
What do we point to? I guess we could point out that Capoue, while he hasn’t been bad, certainly hasn’t fit into the team as well as Iborra did pre-injury, and has now picked up a bothersome injury himself. We can’t seem to stay fit, with Gerard missing game after game and Paco being hurt then getting rehurt in his first game back, missing all that time. Parejo was out for a good long while at one point, we’re down to a guy who couldn’t cut it in the Dutch league at RB. How much do you look at the injury list and say: ‘there’s just not much more you could do with this?’
Unai Emery has been solid, and I think the specific use of the word ‘solid’ is both good and bad. He’s built a side that is incredibly hard to beat, but I do find myself asking whether he has done so at the expense of building a squad that wins football matches. Fully healthy, I think his system works and produces results. Here are the results this season where we have had all three of Parejo, Gerard, and Paco in the starting lineup: DWWDW.
Expecting more letters there? No sorry, that’s it. In only five matches this year have we had what I consider to be the three most crucial players to our offense all starting. Of the two draws you see there, one of those is against Atletico Madrid. So we are averaging 2.2 points a match when those three guys start, which for the year would bring us to 46 points, that would be good for a clear second place in the league right now.
There’s some responsibility, I think, on Emery for not having a good enough plan B to manufacture goals without those three guys. I think that’s fair. But on the flip side it’s also understandable why our team has no really good answer for replacing Parejo’s midfield mastery, Paco’s world class finishing ability, or Gerard’s overall brilliance. Emery’s response has been to create a team structure that’s so solid that we don’t often lose (and to be fair it took 118 minutes of football for us to lose yesterday) but as we slog into February seeing draw after draw is also a bit demoralizing in itself.
There’s still a ton to play for this season. The Europa League is a big prize that Emery has shown he can win. Holding off Betis, Granada, and Real Sociedad to finish in 5th will be an accomplishment in itself, but falling out of the Copa and sitting where we are in the table, I can’t help but wonder a bit what could have been so far this season. What could have been if the big three of our offense had stayed healthy all year, what could have been if a last minute equalizer doesn’t go in against La Real, a penalty gets finished against Granada, or a late defensive breakdown doesn’t happen against Levante. Such is football, and unfortunately, such seems to be the life of a Villarreal fan.