El Centrocampista

From Segunda to La Liga – Villarreal

Villarreal are next up in our look at the three teams promoted from the Segunda, as Calum Nolan asks whether ‘The Yellow Submarines” can stay afloat in Spains top division.

Villarreal CF.

A club that began the 2011-12 La Liga season playing Champions League football and ended it relegated to the Segunda, Villarreal have suffered an astonishing collapse in fortune since the Pellegrini era of domestic and European success.

This is a club that reached the Champions League semi-final in 2006. Were it not for a penalty miss from Riquleme late in the second leg of that semi final against Arsenal, Villarreal may have even reached the final – the pinnacle of the club game in Europe, arguably the world. So too Villarreal proved themselves successful domestically, finishing runners-up to Real Madrid in the 2007-08 La Liga season. The Pellegrini era proved the most successful in the club’s long history.

Just four years on from that runners-up finish in the Primera, ‘The Yellow Submarine’ sank to the Segunda and a max exodus of players followed, with all the star names abandoning ship. Villarreal had begun the season preparing for trips to the Etihad Stadium and the Allianz Arena in Europe’s premier club competition, and ended it preparing for a season in Spain’s second division.

The complete reversal in fortunes and resulting instability harmed Villarreal, and many were skeptical about their chances of immediate promotion, but Villarreal did it – finishing second in the Segunda División and earning automatic promotion.

Villarreal’s established recent history of success in the Primera separates them from their promoted rivals, which could prove vital for their hopes of survival. While much of the playing staff has seen vast changes since their last term in La Liga, the club is suited to this stage and knows what to expect from a season in the top flight.

Villarreal’s Segunda promotion didn’t come easily however. With the Yellow Submarine failing to keep pace with their promotion rivals by the midway point of the season, the club sacked Julio Velázquez and brought in Marcelino García Toral to revitalise their push for promotion. The decision proved an astute move as Villarreal rose up the table and eventually secured promotion in a winner takes all final fixture against UD Almeria for the last automatic promotion berth. Villarreal emerged victors in a tense 1-0 win and promotion was secured, they would return to the Primera at the first time of asking – their fortunes taking a turn for the positive once more.

Villarreal return to the Primera a different side from the one neutrals used to recognise. Their promotion was built upon a core of young players, most of whom were promoted from the reserves.

Mateo Musacchio was a key player, the 22 year old centre back growing into his position and becoming a reliable performer for Villarreal. His continued development will prove encouraging to the fans, and will be important to Villarreal’s chances of staying in the Primera. Mario Gasper, another youngster, proved himself a reliable performer at right back. Meanwhile Bruno Soriano provided some much needed experience in centre midfield and was a stalwart for the largely young team.

Villarreal have already made moves to strengthen their squad, and complement these players as preparations for a season in La Liga begin.

Tomás Pina joined from recently relegated Mallorca to fill the void left by Marcos Senna’s move to an eventual retirement in the MLS. Pina is an unspectacular but capable player, and at aged just 25 is capable of further development, he should prove a good addition to the squad.

The most notable of all the arrivals however, is former Barcelona starlet Giovani dos Santos. He arrives in an attempt to provide the guile and creativity Villarreal were once renowned for. A right forward with the versatility to play on either flank or even centrally, dos Santos has a unique flair and a taste for goal that should go down well with fans at El Madrigal. Big things were expected of the Mexican as a youngster, but a move to England with Tottenham Hotspur in 2008 set his development back and questions were asked of his attitude. Dos Santos has matured since then however, and after a successful spell at Mallorca last season, he appears to have regained his confidence.

At the age of just 24, Giovani dos Santos still has time on his side and room for further improvement, if he plays like he is capable of he will prove himself crucial to Villarreal’s hopes of survival.

Among the promoted sides, Villarreal will begin the Primera season as the bookmakers’ favourites to stay up, something the club’s young squad will be eager to live up to. Having demonstrated they were once capable of mixing amongst the giants in La Liga, Villarreal will simply hope that their promising young team can demonstrate the fortitude required to emerge unscathed from a fight to avoid relegation.

Verdict: Safe

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