And so the manager everyone wanted when Unai Emery left a year ago has now returned to the Villarreal fold. Many fans considered him the best coach we’ve ever had, and he spent three and a half years at the Villarreal helm, from January 2013 to August 2016.
When Marcelino was hired, Villarreal were floundering in the Segunda, having been relegated the season before through a combination of poor recruitment, injuries, lack of confidence on the pitch and in the dugout, and sheer bad luck. And the next season wasn’t working out—the team was falling away from the promotion playoffs.
Marce arrived just before a match at Real Madrid’s B team ground and in his first game in charge saw what he had to work with—not much, as the Submarine were crushed 5-0. (Alvaro Morata scored the first goal, btw!). That would be the penultimate loss the Submarine suffered; Villarreal would go 13-6-1 the rest of the way and capture the second automatic promotion place.
Marcelino benefited from some key acquisitions in that January window, most notably Jeremy Perbet, but he also gave starting roles to Mario Gaspar and Gerard Moreno much of the time, who had been sitting on the bench before. In the next three years, success continued; Villarreal qualified for the Europa League in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and in 2015-16 reached the semis of the Europa League while finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League the following season.
Unfortunately, Villarreal got the worst possible draw in the Champions League playoff round, AS Monaco, and were eliminated, losing both legs. (Monaco made it to the CL semis that year, so they were....pretty good). But Marcelino didn’t coach either of those losses; he had been sacked, allegedly for demoting Mateo Musacchio from the captaincy as retribution for his wanting a transfer. We’ll never really know.
Marcelino is fanatical about fitness; he wants a team that can play counterattacking football at speed. As far as formation, he never varies from a 4-4-2; at Villarreal he had great success with a striker who was a hard worker and could drop back to receive the ball in midfield (Roberto Soldado), and a player who could run into space and finish (Cedric Bakambu). And the key to creating the counterattacks was often a ball-winner in the center of the pitch (Bruno Soriano, in those years).
Marcelino is, of course, much more of a known quantity than he was in January 2013, and he’s been able to ask for much more control over transfers than he had then, and a longer-term contract.
Given that Villarreal have allowed more shots than anyone else in the league by far, and we’ve had a hard time keeping the ball out of our net, he’s got to focus on defensive acquisitions. He’s asked for a centerback signing and a midfielder in January, presumably a defensive midfielder.
On the attacking front, players like Alex Baena, Yeremy Pino, Gerard Moreno, Alexander Sorloth can certainly fit into his plans, and he has a number of matches before the January transfer window opens to figure out who should go from the current squad. But with us already being 10 points out of the European places, and matches against Real Sociedad and Real Madrid coming up in December, we shouldn’t expect immediate miracles. But we will believe again.