Villarreal pay a visit to the Bernabeu on Wednesday night in a match I have circled on the calendar with intrigue. Escriba’s yellow submarine are one we’re still getting used to, and it’s impressive to see how they’ve been gaining momentum since the season began. The team received a huge face lift to go along with letting Marcelinho go before their Champions League qualifier against Monaco - a move that turned out disastrously - and are still adjusting to their avant-garde side.
Since their collapse in the qualifiers, Villarreal have gained some life, and their attack boasts some fervor. Alexandre Pato seems to be more than the forgotten corpse he was prior to being signed over the summer; while both Jonathon Dos Santos and Nicola Sansone has been fun, full of flair, and lethal.
Granted, Villarreal has never won a La Liga game in the Bernabeu. Given that, this game might’ve been more exciting from a neutral’s point of view if it was hosted at the Madrigal.
To help give us some added insight into Villarreal’s team heading into this game, we reached out SB Nation’s very own Villarreal USA. Allen Dodsen was kind enough to answer some questions we threw his way, and, it goes without saying, you should be sure to check out their great content as well as follow them on Twitter.
Kiyan: Ever since Villarreal's disastrous Champions League qualifier against Monaco, I was skeptical whether they would recover after the loss of Marcelino and qualify for Europe. Since then, you've played quite well, and have had big wins against Sociedad and Malaga. What's changed?
Allen: To be honest, I think we realize now we had a tougher draw than we realized in Monaco. But apart from that, we now have Sansone eligible, we have Jonathan dos Santos and Denis Cheryshev available again. With all the changes we had this summer, we’re going to have some times when we are struggling to get everyone on the same page, but so far we’ve been able to get through that. This is a deeper squad than we’ve had in years, but that also puts the onus on the coach to find the best combination of players to make things work.
Kiyan: Soldado's injury seemed huge. Even if he's not a top-tier striker, he's a regular contributor to the offense. You brought in Pato's corpse to compensate, and he's surprised us all with a couple great goals and good contributions overall. I guess my question here is, are we actually witnessing the return of Alexander Pato?
Allen: How many lives does a duck have? Pato must be on his second or third anyway—yeah, the signs have been encouraging, as long as we don’t ask him to take penalties I guess.
Kiyan: Just how huge have new signings Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone been?
Allen: Very huge, indeed. Roberto Soriano has taken Samu Garcia’s place in the squad, and the difference seems clear. Garcia was pretty honest about the fact that he didn’t seem to quite fit in to Marcelino’s 4-4-2; Soriano, on the other hand, has said “every match I’m feeling more confident”. Sansone is a creative and active striker, a treat to watch.
Kiyan: How is our boy Denis fitting in?
Allen: To be honest, he’s still rounding into game fitness and sharpness after a lengthy time off. He’ll be fine, but he hasn’t been an important player for us yet.
Kiyan: What are some of they key differences between Marcelino's team and that of Fran Escriba’s?
Allen: Marcelino had a definite 4-4-2 with the wingers really providing speed and width along the touchlines. He was happy to have us concede possession, and counterattack with the fast wingers (Cheryshev two years ago, Denis Suarez last year) providing the link to get the ball forward to our strikers. We finished fourth despite creating fewer shots on goal than anyone else in the league, amazingly enough.
Escriba’s 4-4-2 seems more flexible; while we are still not looking to dominate possession, we emphasize play through the midfield more (Manu Trigueros has been much happier and much more involved) and players like Roberto Soriano and Jonathan dos Santos, not true wingers but attacking midfielders, can provide some buildup play and links to the strikers. Less direct maybe but more variety of attack and hopefully more chances.
Kiyan: What should Real Madrid be worried most about on Wednesday?
Allen: I think your main worry should be simply that Villarreal will come to compete, not roll over. Madrid will have to work hard for 90+ minutes. At least, I hope so.
Kiyan: What should Villarreal be worried most about?
Allen: Getting caught out and conceding dangerous free kicks (or worse). Finding the balance between trying to frustrate Madrid but not dropping too deep—it’s very difficult for us to survive against sustained pressure from a more physical rival.
Allen: I would feel more confident if this weren’t a midweek match, and also since our team has changed so much I think we would be a tougher opponent later in the season—we still have players getting used to each other. I am going to predict a 2-1 to Real Madrid, but I am going to hope we can come away with something. I don’t think it’s out of the question, but we’ll need some luck.