It’s time for the season to begin! Villarreal take on Granada on Monday at the Ceramica, in front of about 9000 fans (the Comunitat Valenciana is still doing capacity limits). Many thanks to the cardboard fans who kept the stadium ‘full’ the last year and more, but it will be nice to see the bocadillos being brought out at halftime, won’t it?
Granada nearly folded in 2009, but investment from the Pozzo family and a partnership agreement with Udinese kept the team going and more-or-less successful in the Primera. A Chinese owner took over in 2016 and the confusing Watford/Udinese/Granada loans pretty much ended, but soon, so too did their first division status.
Relegated in 2017, after two seasons in the Segunda they bounced back, qualifying for Europe in 2020 and making the semis of the Copa, their best ever result. Last year had an amazing run in the Europa League (to the quarterfinals) but league placing suffered.
This year? Well, the signs aren’t encouraging, though they do have a couple of interesting pickups. One is Carlos Bacca, who Villarreal cut loose this summer. At age 34, he’s not likely to see a ton of playing time, but he could still be that supersub or game-changer in the last 30 minutes or so. (and he’s not even their oldest striker; Jorge Molina is 39). Another is Peruvian international Luis Abram; the defender was added on a free transfer at the end of last month.
The bad news is Roberto Soldado is gone, Kenedy returned to Chelsea, Rui Silva left for Betis on a free, some other loanees left, and the squad looks pretty thin with no investment from their current owner planned that I can see. Robert Moreno (Spain caretaker role, Monaco 2019-20) replaced Diego Martinez as coach. A lot of people are expecting Granada to come back to earth and struggle this season, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Okay, we didn’t win the Supercup, but given what a mess our preseason was, everyone was pretty happy with how we played, especially missing Dani Parejo and Samu Chukwueze. We won’t have Pau Torres for this one—he is taking a well-deserved break after playing tons of matches and telling Tottenham where to stick it besides.
The Yellow Submarine has the opposite problem from Granada—our squad is too big and we’re still looking at loan exits for several players. The remainder of August is going to be pretty busy, I think. New man Boulaye Dia has looked good, permanent addition Juan Foyth has shined, but we still want a left-side Samu type for more direct attack. We won’t have anyone by Monday, though!
It’s actually been over four years since we defeated Granada in Vila-real (2-0 in January 2017, with Alvaro Gonzalez and Bruno Soriano the goal-scorers). We drew 4-4 to open the 2019-20 season; after taking a 4-2 lead we had some dire set-piece defending, and last season we drew 2-2 in a match where Paco Alcacer took a penalty at the end and missed.
We did win the return fixture 3-0, Gerard scoring all the goals (2 of them penalties).
I asked my colleagues for their prediction. I’ll start with mine—expect goals, expect a Villarreal win. Let’s say 3-1.
Jamie agrees with me, 3-1; Zach thinks a 2-0 win, Rahul 2-0, Sid 2-1, Robin 2-1 but with us scoring an own goal. And we also have the Michigan Soccer Analytics Society 1-0 prediction!
Carlos Bacca, of course, and also Adrián Marín. I don’t know how many of you remember him, but he’s a left-back who came up in our youth system but has seen his career derailed by injuries. Still only 24, though.
I know virtually all of us are used to Villarreal being a topflight team, maybe some of us went through the 2011-12 relegation and 2012-13 promotion... but as Mihai Vidroiu pointed out on twitter (he’s @Riazor7 on there and you should follow him), we’ve still spent more seasons in the Tercera (23) than any other level. Humble beginnings!