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Villarreal’s wayward submarine seeks to get back on course

The small club from the Mediterranean coast has set Spain and Europe alight with its attractive brand of football in the last few seasons. But recently, Juan Carlos Garrido’s side seem to have lost their way, with both results and style slipping out of their reach.


Juan Carlos Garrido: underperforming but not under fire...yet.

“It looked like Bayern won with something to spare” Juan Carlos Garrido admitted at the end of Villarreal’s 2-0 defeat at home to Bayern Munich a few weeks ago, adding: “but that’s not quite how it was, even so, they are a great team”, almost as a confused afterthought. Bayern’s players seemed surprised, even underwhelmed by the childish ease with which they dispatched a team that has become known around Europe over the last few years for their adventurous, skilful play.

Any artistry that Garrido’s Villarreal may have been capable of certainly was not on display in the defensive styling of their football on the night. Set up with three largely static defensive midfielders, they were never likely to pose sufficient threat to force Bayern onto the back foot. The usual aggressive pressing game was abandoned in favour of sitting deep, placing men behind the ball and inviting Bayern to attack. Tactics, in short, that betrayed an alarming lack of confidence.

The approach to that game was symptomatic of the “Yellow Submarine’s” start to the season.  The dour draw against Getafe on Saturday was the latest in a largely unbroken string of disappointing performances that stretches back to the 5-0 defeat in the opening weekend against Barcelona, leaving the team 13th in La Liga. Gone is the fluidity and dynamism that was the hallmark of last year’s side. They now look rather like a group of individually capable musicians, puzzled and frustrated by their inability to keep time in concert.

Garrido’s problems in a sense began before a ball had been kicked in anger. Villarreal did well over the summer to hold onto Giuseppe Rossi but to do so they did have to sell Santi Cazorla to Málaga. Cazorla was clearly a vital player, but the true impact of his absence was only revealed once the season began. Potential replacements, Javier Camuñas and Jonathan de Guzman have been unable to impact games in the same way. Garrido missed a trick in allowing Valencia to bag Sergio Canales from under his nose; a deal appeared to be all but inked in when a disagreement over the clause that would prevent Canales from playing against Real Madrid caused negotiations to break down.

In defence, Carlos Marchena – brought in last season to replace Diego Godin – has failed to convince. Marcos Senna, now 35 is hardly the player he was at Euro 2008. Joan Capdevila, a fixture at left back for many seasons left for Benfica with Cristián Zapata the sole defensive signing. Graduates from the youth team – Mario Gaspar, Joan Oriol, José Catalá and Mateo Musacchio – are being expected to fill the gaps. Garrido’s nervousness with regards to these players is palpable, often preferring to play Zapata out of position at right back where he offers a certain degree of stability but little going forward. Similarly, he has occasionally resorted to using an additional defensive midfielder, his lack of faith in his defence resulting in tactics that are of a distinctly short term view. This does come down to him not having players of sufficient quality, which is perhaps where a criticism can be made of the business (or lack of it) that Villarreal did in the summer.

Clunky in midfield     

The absence of Cazorla has resulted in a lack of dynamism in midfield. The first attempt at a fix was to push Borja Valero further forward. Excellent though he is on the ball, Valero’s best position is that of a deep-lying playmaker. Having to move closer to goal and even drift into wide areas effectively blunted the threat he could offer and that idea was quickly shelved. Not having a player to link with the strikers has undermined the effectiveness of Valero as well as that of Rossi and Nilmar. The lack of fluency has even resulted in Garrido occasionally opting for an uncharacteristically direct and vertical style of play.

Last week, club president Fernando Roig publicly voiced unequivocal support for Garrido, who has not yet faced much pressure from the media or crucially, the fans. Villarreal’s fans are not overly afflicted with the sense of entitlement that is increasingly the norm amongst the supporters of clubs of a certain stature all over Europe. Perhaps their sudden rise and relative ‘homeliness’ shields them from it. Whatever, Garrido and Roig will certainly be grateful not to have to deal with a phalanx of loons blasting a lack of “investment” and calling for the manager’s head at every bad result.

That is not to suggest that Garrido has not made mistakes. Indeed, his decisions betray considerable confusion regarding how his team should play. However, Villarreal have some very good players available, and are undoubtedly one of the best-run clubs in Spain’s La Liga. They are faced with the unenviable task of having to replace players of the quality of Cazorla, Godin and Diego Forlán every season and have done remarkably well thus far. But now their challenge is to turn things around while maintaining the style of play that has made them so well liked across Europe.  Today’s trip to Manchester City in the Champions League will be a crucial test.

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Published: Oct 18 2011
Category: Sports, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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