The hype for the 2017-18 La Liga season has been decidedly low-key, and for good reason. Is there really any stopping Real Madrid? The club’s loss of Alvaro Morata hasn’t exceptionally weakened them, and capturing Kylian Mbappe would mean that we’re about 20 years away from parity being restored to European competition.
Barcelona’s preparations for the new season have been entirely overshadowed by the rumors surrounding Neymar. The sale of the Brazilian would allow Barcelona the opportunity to buy almost the entirety of the world’s football playing public, but not a single one of those 265 million talents would adequately replace the 25-year-old, not even Gerard Deulofeu.
Atletico Madrid successfully managed to sign Vitolo despite their transfer ban, but he won’t be available until December and one gets the feeling that Atleti are simply weathering the embargo and their move to a new stadium before overhauling a tried-and-trusted-but-bygone squad.
Sevilla has lost manager Jorge Sampaoli to the will of Lionel Messi and Argentina, as well as both Vitolo and Vicente Iborra, and it’s hard to see them building on their fourth-place finish.
Which brings us to last season’s fifth-place finisher, Villarreal CF. The Yellow Submarine will have to deal with the ordeal of the Europa League, something Spanish sides typically do admirably, but for La Liga neutrals, they are really our only true hope with regards to a beautiful bit of disruption.
But we needn’t be dismayed by the incredulity of cheering for a side that really hasn’t hit the heights since Manuel Pellegrini was prowling the touchline, Juan Roman Riquelme pulling the strings in midfield and Diego Forlan banging in the goals up top.
First, the club is poised to build off a positive 2016-17 season. Manager Fran Escriba returns for his second year in charge. The club lost Mateo Musacchio to the ever-growing might of AC Milan for nearly $20 million, but with the purchases of Ruben Semedo, Enes Unal, Pablo Fornals and Andres Fernandez, their net spend is still an ambitious deficit of nearly $30 million.
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) July 25, 2017
Alongside the new arrivals, the attacking talents of Cedric Bakambu (11 La Liga goals) and Roberto Soriano (9 goals, 5 assists) are complimented by the vastly experienced backbone provided by Bruno, Manu Trigueros and Mario.
Without being loaded with world-class talent, Villarreal have managed to build an extremely disciplined, balanced and hard to beat XI.
Will Villarreal provide a Leicester City-esque fairytale in Spain? No. Real and Barca are much too strong to allow for that.
But the hope is that Villarreal can legitimately test last season’s established narrative, that they can become another horse in the race or help rein in an ambitious pacemaker with an unexpected victory.
Villarreal has historically punched above their weight to great effect, and this season could see be another brilliant example of that well-earned reputation.