While it would be too harsh to say that Villarreal is an unknown quantity in European football, they’re not exactly a yearly opponent of Bayern and thus probably an unfamiliar team for some. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. This piece is all you need to know about Bayern’s first CL opponent (sorry Zürich, the real Champions League starts now).
Who am I to tell you stuff about a Spanish club? Exactly. That’s why I invited none other than Villarreal superfan Ravi Ramineni (links and Twitter account at the end of the piece) to tell us everything about the so-called yellow submarine. All aboard, enjoy!
The Yellow Submarine is back in the Champions League after 2 years. Last time around, they got eliminated by Arsenal in the quarterfinals. A lot has changed since then. The most successful coach at the club, Manuel Pellegrini moved on. Villarreal had a turbulent 09-10. Under Juan Carlos Garrido who got promoted from Villarreal B to coach the senior side, the team had a revival of sorts last season. They made a deep run in the Europa League, succumbing to eventual winners FC Porto in the semifinals. They finished 4th in the Spanish League, which meant they had to go through the Champions league playoff round to qualify for the group stages.
Historically, Villarreal has been a very boring team as far as their transfer window activity is concerned. They don’t indulge in a lot of buying and selling. But this year, owing to the financial trouble in Spain in general and Spanish football in particular, there were a lot of rumors surrounding the star players of the team like Giuseppe Rossi and Santi Cazorla. Add to that the club president had indicated early in the year that team needs to about 20mil euros of funds to continue the project going for the next 2-3 years without any financial hardship. It felt like Rossi would be the one to go, but in the end it turned out to be Santi Cazorla. The talismanic Cazorla joined the new middle-east money led revolution at Málaga.
The team added Cristian Zapata a good central defender and Jonathan De Guzmán to replace Cazorla and maybe even the aging captain Marcos Senna. The team also picked up winger Javier Camuñas to strengthen the bench, which was a big weakness of the team last year.
With battles on all three fronts, (La Liga, Copa and Champions league) I still feel that the team lacks depth. After the first 15 or so, the drop-off is huge.
Play-off vs. Odense
When Villarreal drew Odense in the play-off, there was a sigh of relief. But it soon turned into anxiety after a shock defeat in the 1st leg in Denmark. A late blunder by new signing Zapata gifted Odense an unlikely 1-0 victory. For Villarreal, Champions league TV money is vital to continue the project and stay in the upper echelons of Spanish football. The 2nd leg was nervy. When it ended 0-0 at half-time, the task got that much tougher. After about 140 minutes into the tie Villarreal finally got into the tie with a goal from Rossi. And then another, and another. 3-0 FT. Honestly, they made it harder for themselves than it ever should have been.
The champions’ league draw put Villarreal in one of the toughest groups ever in Champions’ league group play with Bayern München, Manchester City and Napoli. Not surprisingly, most analysts have written off Villarreal as the weakest link in group A. Villarreal always punched above its weight in the Champions League format. A semifinal and a quarterfinal in its two appearances in the competition so far are not shabby. But looking at the strength and pedigree of Bayern, the amount of talent in Manchester City and Napoli, the analysts might have a point.
Game vs. Bayern München:
The Bavarian club is in imperious form in the Bundesliga in the recent weeks. They warmed up for the Champions League game with a 7-0 win of Freiburg on Saturday. Villarreal meanwhile was involved in a 2-2 draw at home against Sevilla where they played a man down for 70 minutes.
It is no secret that Villarreal play the narrow 4-2-2-2 system. The strength of this system is combination play between the midfielders in advanced positions and the highly mobile strikers. The double-pivot is the fulcrum in providing service to the midfielders. As the midfielders tend to cut into the middle part of the pitch, the system relies heavily on the fullbacks to provide width.
The key match-ups:
The battle of the fullbacks: Both Joan Oriol (LB) and Mario (RB) are young and inexperienced and they will go up against the experienced Philip Lahm and Rafinha. The key for Villarreal is if one of the two fullbacks (most likely Oriol), establishes himself on the attack and pin down the opponents fullback in their own half.
The Wing play of Bayern: Despite the absence of Arjen Robben, Bayern is very strong on the wings with Frank Ribery. Villarreal will be mindful of that and will try to shadow Ribery closely and take chances on the other side of the pitch.
Bayern’s suspect central defence: One area where Bayern is relatively weaker is the central defence. Any combination of Van Buyten, Boateng and Badstuber will have a lot of problems with the pace and movement of Rossi + Nilmar/Ruben. An early yellow card to one of the defenders could have a huge impact on the game.
Midfield: Marcos Senna is like to get the start alongside Bruno. It will be interesting to see how they stack up against Schweinsteiger and Luiz Gustavo. Whoever wins this battle will have a lot of chances on goal and since both defences are rather suspect, it could translate into a bunch of goals. Villarreal will sorely miss the suspended Borja Valero in this aspect.
Handling Mario Gomez and Thomas Müller will be difficult task for Villarreal defence, especially while defending corners.
The two teams look very complementary, i.e. strengths of one team matching the weak areas of the other. I predict an open game with a lot of goals. Villarreal won’t be disappointed with a draw in this game.
Villarreal Likely starting XI : Lopez; Mario-Musachhio-Zapata-Oriol; Senna-Bruno; Cani-De Guzmán; Rossi-Nilmar
I contribute regularly at Forzafutbol, an English language website covering the Spanish league as well as Villarreal USA , an English language website covering Villarreal. Follow me on twitter @aupasubmarino.