Sunday, September 17, 2006

What's wrong with Villarreal?

A break from my series of posts on the future of the Argentinean NT as I ponder the shifting fortunes of my club, Barca, and my second club Villarreal in La Liga, starting with Villarreal's Saturday game.

Villarreal lost 2-0 against Deportivo La Coruna, which means that they have only one point from three games - ironically, from a draw with title contenders Real Madrid - and sit 16th in the league with the rest of the teams yet to play. As a fan on one forum pointed out, the Yellow Submarines have a proud tradition of starting seasons badly, gaining just 2 points from their first 4 games last season.

They've been extremely unlucky with long-term injuries to center-back Gonzalo Rodriguez and midfielder Robert Pires, although I think of the two Gonzalo's injury is the more worrying. The coach has a different perspective though and is busy searching for a Pires replacement in the short window granted by the Spanish FA to sign a replacement.

To me, Gonzalo's injury is the more significant one because he has become a defensive mainstay since arriving from San Lorenzo, playing consistently well. The back-line of Arruabarrena, Quique Alvarez, Pena and Javi Venta hasn't really looked all that convincing this season, in contrast to the side that was known for its defense last season, keeping many clean sheets against the likes of Manchester United, Lille, Benfica and Inter in the Champions League.

The preferred strike pairing up front seems to be Nihat and Forlan, although any and all combinations of those two, Franco and Jose Mari has been tried so far without success. Nihat in particular has played the most without much to show for it so far. The lack of goals from the strike force is the most worrying aspect of Villarreal's start to the season, with the midfield incapable of chipping in with goals to cover the lack as they did last season.

By 'they' I mean Juan Roman Riquelme. 12 goals last season, including long-range stunners, penalties, glorious freekicks and a couple that came straight from corners. 15 in 04-05 (and an incredible number of assists, helping Forlan become top scorer), the best season he has ever had in Spain in which Villarreal finished a miraculous 3rd. Roman's form or lack of is always going to be the subject of intense scrutiny because of the way that Villarreal (and previously Argentina) are built around his play. What is obvious from his disappearing act against Deportivo is that with his mother's illness he has too much on his mind to concentration on the game. Much as I love him, maybe it's time Roman's dropped for Cani for a few games until he gets his head sorted out.

The more defensive midfielders fared well, Senna and Somoza both continuing to put in competent performances. The same cannot be said of the creative side of things, and not all the blame can be laid on Riquelme. With the injury to Pires the club's decision to let Sorin go to Hamburg for considerably less than what I consider his true worth looks increasingly suspect. Playing on the left side of midfield he could have lent some much needed pace and creativity to the team, not to mention how well he works with Riquelme both in open play and with deadball situations.

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