There were mixed reactions when Quique Setien was appointed as Unai Emery’s replacement in November. Some questioned the appointment of a coach whose last match was an 8-2 defeat over two years ago, whilst others were excited by the prospect of his possession based style which proved popular at Real Betis.
It has been a roller-coaster ride since. A poor start had fans chanting for him to go within five games, but back to back victories over Valencia and Real Madrid had everyone hopeful that he had turned a corner at Villarreal.
However, this would be followed by disaster in the Copa Del Rey. With the side on the verge of beating Real Madrid for the second time in a matter of weeks, a disastrous collapse saw a 2-0 lead become a 3-2 defeat.
A hard fought, last gasp win over Girona lifted spirits a bit, but four consecutive losses has the club sweating over their hopes of European qualification for next season, whilst scrutiny over Setien intensifies.
Although he has the team playing in a possession-dominant style, and falling to some unlucky defeats, there has been a definite drop in performance levels since the Emery days, and many have pointed to the manager.
However, two questions remain in this crisis point: is Setien to blame for this slump, and is he the man to take Villarreal forward?
A quick look at the January window takes a lot of blame away from the Spaniard. Villarreal started January light in attack, and ended it even lighter.
Geronimo Rulli departed for Ajax, Arnaut Danjuma was loaned to Spurs, and Nicolas Jackson was the subject of heavy Premier League interest before failing his medical at Bournemouth.
No signings arrived, despite the first choice goalkeeper and the club-record signing leaving. Even the best managers in the world would struggle to build a team after a window as damaging as that.
Injuries haven’t helped either. Gerard Moreno has (yet again) missed a number of games, with Raul Albiol also absent and Francis Coquelin now sidelined for the rest of the season after damaging his anterior cruciate ligament against Barcelona.
Arriving mid-season after the sudden departure of Emery was going to bring problems, and a manager not being able to recruit a single player in his first window was always going to find his job a lot more difficult.
If he was promised signings before joining the club, then Villarreal have seriously let Setien down, and given him a bad hand to work with.
However, whilst he has been dealt a bad hand, has Setien shown enough to be seen as someone Villarreal can get behind for the future?
He was handed an 18-month contract when joining, which is hardly a big show of faith in his ideas, and amidst the team’s dreadful run, he is now the manager with the lowest win rate of any Villarreal head coach in history, winning 47% of his games.
His side have now lost five of their last six matches, are out of the Copa Del Rey, and a dangerously thin squad coupled with injuries means the Europa Conference League could be a struggle.
Perhaps one way of analysing the January business is to look towards next season. Two signings have already been confirmed for the summer, in Denis Suarez and Ben Brereton-Diaz, and the club may have refused to let Setien bring his own players in during January for fear that he may not last the season.
If Villarreal do sack Setien now, then there aren’t many options available who could be willing to take the job in the middle of the season. The job becomes far more appealing during a transfer window, and ideally in a summer where Villarreal have qualified for Europe.
With someone like Marcelo Gallardo highly coveted, but also out of work, he could be an option to replace Setien in the summer, but it is doubtful that the Argentinian would want to join a club during the season.
Unless something happens that Setien can convince the club, and the fans, that he should be the man to lead what could become a lengthy rebuild of an ageing squad at Villarreal, it feels unlikely that he will be in the dugout by the opening game of next season.
If he cannot address the crisis-level form now, Villarreal risk missing out on Europe completely, and he may not even last the season.
It is now or never for Setien, and he faces an uphill battle to prove himself as worthy of a high-level position in La Liga.