Interesting list. All eyes will be on Leicester City though as they are the only one in the group with little to no European experience. Each team will definitely present its challenges to the established order.
(I liked Villarreal back in the days of Manuel Pelligrini and Riquelme. Glad to see them doing well again) My Thoughts on The Matter Along With A Nice Piece from ESPN FC
Villarreal are one step closer to a European final after their 1-0 victory over Liverpool.
The Yellow Submarines have been on an upward trajectory ever since returning to La Liga in 2013/14. Long-time owner, Fernando Roig, has established a structure that allowed them to quickly bounce back from relegation and may soon reap the rewards.
Villarreal are now fourth in La Liga and have one foot in the Europa League final after the win against Liverpool. Either winning the Europa League or solidifying fourth place would result in a return to the Champions League. Achieving both would further cement the club’s remarkable resurgence.
The Yellow Submarine finished sixth in La Liga in 2013/14 and 2014/15, with a trip to the Copa del Rey semifinal’s and a Round of 16 exit also occurring last season. They’ve improved their fortunes in Europe this season while facing even tougher opposition. The road to the semifinals included ties against Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen, two sides who certainly have the quality to be in their position. Results have been equally if not more impressive domestically. Wins against Valencia and Atletico Madrid in the last few seasons were coupled with a fantastic 1-1 tie at the Bernabeu with arguably a second string side. This season has seen them add Sevilla and Real Madrid to the list of the vanquished while handing Atletico one of their few defeats. Only Barcelona continues to find a way to elude them. The days of relegation are long forgotten.
Manager, Marcelino Toral, has built an organized, resilient team capable of some good football.
It’s reminiscent of the early 2000’s with Manuel Pellegrini at the helm, though there’s less creativity in attack. The Argentinian manager called upon the likes of Riquelme, Diego Forlan, Marcos Senna, Joan Capdevila, Santi Cazorla and Cani, as well as a few others, during his time at the club. A 2005/06 Champions League semifinal was arguably the highlight but there’s no doubting getting second place in 2007/08 was up there as well.
Now the club has veterans like Roberto Soldado and Bruno Soriano to go with talents such as Jonathan Dos Santos, Mateo Musacchio, Eric Bailly, Denis Suarez and Cedric Bakambu. In Sergio Asenjo they have a goalkeeper that, were it not for injuries, would’ve battled David de Gea to replace Iker Casillas as Spain’s goalkeeper. The mixture of youth and experience has been a constant throughout Roig’s time in charge, and so has the approach on the field. This current crop may lack some of the incisive finishing and outright playmaking ability of Pellegrini’s side but the talent is there for all to see.
The tie against Liverpool wasn’t a perfect display but, in keeping the English side and smartly dealing what could be a killer blow at the end, the Yellow Submarines showed just what they are capable of.
The club’s ascendance may continue with the return to the Champions League but things can change quickly in football. Villarreal will never be able to compete financially with their more illustrious La Liga opponents, and the financial boom in the Premier League means anyone can fall prey to those teams. Holding unto key personnel, manager included, will be extremely important heading into next season.
With the first leg complete, Villarreal now turns its attention to what will be a tough battle against a renewed Valencia side. That game at the Mestalla will be vital not just for the three points at stake. Villarreal has suffered some of it’s worst defeats away from home, losing 3-0 to both Barcelona and Real Madrid along with a slightly embarrassing 2-0 loss to Getafe. Gaining a positive result against Los Che will give the players confidence they can get a similar result at Anfield a few days later. That would be another in a long list of impressive results.
The Yellow Submarine have risen from depths in the past and are on the rise again.
Not too sure how things will turn out for Villarreal after the departures this summer but it’s been good to see them playing well recently. Hopefully it continues.