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Three reasons why Villarreal can challenge the big guns in La Liga

Dave Burin | 28 June 2018

Yellow Submarine shaping up nicely this summer

It hasn’t been plain sailing for Villarreal in recent years. Their Champions League heyday of the mid-noughties evaporated, and the 2011-12 even saw the Yellow Submarine relegated to the second tier.

But since returning to La Liga in 2013, the Castellon club have been quietly impressive, chalking up top-six finishes each time around.

The Coral News Team think Javier Calleja’s men could make the next step forward in the coming season, and break the hegemony of La Liga’s big three. Here’s why…

Ambitious summer business

Calleja hasn’t been reticent in splashing the cash this summer. Three players have arrived for fees of £15m+, and all look to be very sound additions.

Ramiro Funes Mori arrives from Everton, and will add a tenacious and physical edge to the Villarreal backline. The centre-back spent much of last season sidelined with a knee injury, but impressed in his first two years at Goodison Park.

Gerard Moreno was the saviour of a poor Espanyol side last term. The 26-year-old scored 16 of the club’s 36 league goals last term (or 36% of their total). He’s also made the move back to El Madrigal this summer, and should thrive with better service.

Moreno already knows the ropes at El Madrigal, having played over 40 games for Villarreal before departing to Catalonia.

He’s not the only new boy up front. The rapid and clinical Karl Toko Ekambi arrives after recording 17 goals and six assists in Ligue 1 for SCO Angers in 2017-18.

Only one man has headed out of El Madrigal this summer. Departing midfielder Rodri will be missed, but his exit is outweighed by the number and quality of the new arrivals.

They’ve proved they can beat the best

Consistency was the issue for the Yellow Submarine last season. They endured defeats against lesser lights such as Alaves and Malaga. But at their best, Villarreal have proved they’re more than a match for the big guns.

They took four points off Atletico Madrid last term. In the process, they netted three of the mere 22 goals Atleti conceded during the campaign.

However, Villarreal’s most impressive result of the campaign came against Atletico’s city rivals. Calleja’s men pulled off a 1-0 victory at Santiago Bernabeu, with a late Pablo Fornals strike downing Real Madrid.

Having gone unbeaten against both Madrid sides last term, it’s clear that Villarreal can more than match every side in the division – aside from Barcelona. The issue now is showing that quality week in, week out.

They’ve improved under Calleja

Last season ended with a run into the Europa League knockouts, and a solid fifth-placed finish in La Liga. But things didn’t start out well. They lost three of the opening six league games, including a humiliating 4-0 mauling away to Getafe.

That proved the final straw for then-manager Fran Escriba, who was quickly replaced by Calleja. And things quickly improved.

Especially so on their travels. Having lost three of their four away games under Escriba, the Yellow Submarine went on to win six times on their travels – including wins at Valencia, Real Madrid and a thrilling 4-2 victory against Deportivo La Coruna.

He’s built a well-oiled system, with Villarreal generally adopting a 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Fornals and Samu Castillejo adding pace and creativity out wide.

Factor all that in, and there’s a strong chance they could break into the top three in the coming campaign.

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