It’s fair to say that Unai Emery has taken over as manager of football clubs in his native Spain in far worse shape than Villarreal.
Following a campaign where the Yellow Submarine comfortably secured Europa League football for next season, a fifth-place finish is relative luxury compared to past jobs. Emery succeeded Ronald Koeman at Valencia in 2008 with Los Che having just made the top half when supporters were accustomed to Champions League football.
When he returned to La Liga after an ill-fated spell with Russian Premier League outfit Spartak Moscow, Sevilla were twelfth in the table. Villarreal may have ended last season 10 points off the final Champions League spot, but this hardly qualifies as a rescue mission.
The appointment of Emery, who coached PSG to a domestic treble in 2017-18 and reached yet another Europa League final with Arsenal since last managing in Spain, will be seen as taking the Yellow Submarine to the next level. Villarreal have only qualified for the Champions League twice since the Manuel Pellegrini era, finishing fifth in three of the last four seasons.
They don’t want to be the so nearly team of Spanish soccer. On last term’s form, there is ground to make up on the top four with improving their away record one way of bridging the gap. Villarreal lost half of their matches on the road and barely scored more than they conceded.
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This is despite having the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga last season. Only Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema netted more goals than Gerard Moreno who is but one forward option as Emery’s disposal. Yellow Submarine record winter window signing Paco Alcacer is a striker Emery knows all about after handing him his first-team debut at Valencia in 2012.
Paco, so prolific for Spain when called upon, can now settle in at Villarreal for a first full season with a coach who had his talent spotted way back when. There is also ageing Colombian hitman Carlos Bacca to act as backup. It’s now simply a matter of supplying the Yellow Submarine attack with the right ammunition to torpedo the opposition.
With such a strikeforce as his disposal, don’t be surprised if Villarreal become more prominent in La Liga betting and their odds for a top four finish shorten. They won’t be favorites, but there could be value in backing them to sneak into a Champions League place.
As well as improving their fortunes on their travels, Emery also needs midfield reinforcements. Bruno Soriano has retired after being plagued by a knee injury for three years and more than a decade-and-a-half at El Madrigal. Being a one-club man is so rare these days that his loyalty should not go unnoticed.
Bruno wasn’t the only popular figure in the Yellow Submarine engine to come back from injury either. Santi Cazorla’s own return to Villarreal for a third spell was nothing short of a miracle, and he finished up contributing towards 20 goals in La Liga, scoring eleven and setting up nine, this term. Replacing those senior players in the dressing room may be Emery’s biggest challenge.