If you read my first season round-up, you could probably sense the frustration with results and performances. We threw away so many games from winning positions. Performances were dodgy at the best of times. Even when we won games, we weren’t convincing and I was constantly on edge. New players and a bit of a tactical shake up will hopefully give us a bit of an edge this season.
We’re a Champions League club this season and I’ll be trying my best to get back into the top four for next season.
We were tipped for a 7th place finish this season, despite claiming 4th last year. We’d made some good additions to the squad, so I wrongly assumed that we’d be fancied for top five at least. Predictions are just a guess though and the job is always to try and prove your doubters wrong.
The season started with a mixed bag of results as we again struggled to see out games. I was putting it down to tactical familiarity. A late goal by Rotariu in a 2-1 win over Real Madrid gave me some hope that we were heading in the right direction. New signing Lucas Alario was bedding in well and scoring goals, which was very pleasing.
We were still struggling to get a run of wins, but draws against Celta 0-0 and Barcelona 2-2 were impressive. The Barcelona game was most impressive as we showed great character (thanks Brendan!) to come from two goals down, Alario bagging both goals. Alario was again the hero in a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid. Over the next few games, things clicked into place as we followed up a 1-1 draw with Valencia with six wins on the trot.
We were looking pretty good in the league at this point, sitting nicely in third place. We lost our way from March time and as we reached the end of the season, defeats to Atletico and Barcelona put our Champions League place in jeopardy. It came down to the final day. We needed at least a draw with Valencia to get fourth place as Celta were playing Atletico in the other important match.
It was a very close game with Valencia, but Dorin Rotariu managed to nick us ahead in added time of the first half. The next 45minutes were going to be edgy, do we chase the game or try and hold on? I’m not one for a change of approach, so I stuck with the setup we had and hoped Atletico would kill off Celta who were chasing. Just after the break, Atletico scored. Things were safe at this point, but with plenty time left in both games, we had to make sure we did our job. Valencia were looking dangerous as we defended courageously. Chances came and went but we held on and just as importantly, so did Atletico. The result secured our fourth place finish on the last day.
We were only one goal better off this season, but the football on show was of a higher standard. It was more attacking, we created more chances and actually looked like a threat. Defensively, we were around the same sort of level as last season, managing 15 clean sheets, which wasn’t bad. Rulli seemed more capable than my choice of goalkeepers from last season, making plenty of important saves.
To get into the group stage, we had to get by Dnipro in a qualifier, a fair old trek, but I felt confident we could get by them. Two minutes into the first leg, I was thinking differently as we went 1-0 down. Two debut goals from Lucas Alario turned things around and gave us important away goals. A mad tackle from Samu Castillejo in the 82nd minute gave Dnipro a chance to equalise from a penalty, Roman Bezus slotted it home. In the return leg, Dnipro again scored a really quick goal, fourth minute this time, but we struck back three minutes later to tie it 3-3 on aggregate. Goals from Alario (21) and Carlos (62) saw the game finish 3-1 (5-3 agg) to send us into the group stage.
I was expecting a tough draw as we were seeded fourth, but I think we got off lightly, drawing Liverpool, Basel and Shakhtar. We started with our only defeat in the group, losing 1-0 at Anfield. Two draws and three victories, saw us spring a surprise by topping the group.
I felt things were going to come to a halt quite quickly though as we drew Bayern in the first knockout round. We kept things respectable though, only losing 1-0 in Germany before a 2-1 victory at home. A late Kingsley Coman goal, saving the Germans from elimination. Gutting, but delighted not to get blown away.
Copa del Rey
I was hoping to make an impact in this competition, but with changing tactics and the Champions League, I again chose to rest players and rotate the squad. We made it to the 5th round, but Valladolid saw us away 2-1 over the two legs. Perhaps next season I’ll try and make more of an impact.
Carlos again had a good season. He didn’t quite reach the heights of last season but 11 goals and 8 assists from right midfield was an excellent return from the youngster. His overall contribution to play was very good and he was voted Fans Player Of The Season for the second year running.
New signing Lucas Alario was also excellent, scoring 29 goals in his debut season and even contributing 7 assists. He wasn’t just a goalscorer as he linked well with the midfield to play in onrushing midfielders.
Dorin Rotariu and Marc Stendera were both very good, contributing assists and goals with some excellent performances.
Mario was much improved as he actually managed to knock in five assists.
We’ve got a young squad, but plenty of players here have been developing nicely, adding aspects to their game or improving due to tutoring. I suspect there will be departures in the summer as teams are forming an orderly queue for the likes of Carlos, Musacchio and Alario. I’ve got to stick to my rules, if the right offers come in, I can’t stand in their way. I’ve got my list of potential replacements should I lose some star men.
My contract is up next summer, so I’ve got a decision to make.. or maybe the board do. I’m enjoying Villarreal, but with it being a World Cup year, there will likely be some good jobs available. Not going to think too much about that right now.
The club have started making progress off the pitch. Financially, we’re in a better position that last year due to the sale of players. We’re not a big money making machine though, so we’ve still got to be careful with wage packages and signings. Facilities are starting to be upgraded and we should have our Youth and First Team training grounds by the end of the year. Junior Coaching is improving as well and our Youth Recruitment is now at Extensive. These improvements will put the club on a sound footing for the future.
Next season I’m hoping to again improve performances and get into the Champions League. A lot will depend on summer business. I’m looking to improve a couple of areas, although I’m quite happy with the balance of my attack and midfield. Defensively, we could do with a new left back at the very least. The squad will need reinforcements to push for first team places.
Will be back with a little transfer update in the coming days.