Recent competitors on European club football's highest stage, Villarreal CF once again find themselves positioned among some of the continent's elite teams thanks to a perfect start to their Liga return.
An impressive 3-0 weekend victory at CA Osasuna – which came about thanks to goals from Jérémy Perbet, Javier Aquino and Ikechukwu Uche – combined with previous wins against UD Almería and Real Valladolid CF, means the Yellow Submarine have made their best-ever start in what is their 14th campaign in the Spanish top-flight. Only 2013/14 UEFA Champions League contenders FC Barcelona, Club Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid CF can boast of a similar 100% record this season.
"I'm happier now than I have ever been," an elated Villarreal coach Marcelino García Toral said after his team's win in Pamplona. "The key is humility, hard work, ability and the players' willingness to show they can perform as a team out on the pitch. They believe in a collective idea."
UEFA Champions League semi-finalists in 2006, Villarreal were drawn alongside FC Bayern München, SSC Napoli and Manchester City FC in the tournament ahead of a promising 2011/12 campaign. After suffering defeat in each of their group stage games, however, the Spanish side's misery was compounded by their subsequent Liga relegation. A slow start to life in the second division meant an imminent return looked unlikely until Marcelino's appointment to the helm last January.
"We have arrived at this point after having a tough time last season," the coach – whose first game in charge of Villarreal was a 5-0 defeat to Real Madrid's B team 'Castilla' – explained. "We progressively began to play better and went on to win a lot of games," he added.
Promotion was achieved with a core of notable performers such as attackers Manuel Trigueros, Jonathan Pereira and midfielders Cani and Bruno Soriano. The likes of Giovani dos Santos, Tomás Pina and goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo have been added this term leading to a side now noted for their speed, discipline and tireless pressing.
"We have become comfortable in possession," Marcelino said. "We enjoyed ourselves against Osasuna; enjoyed opening up the game and being creative. This is a team that can generate good football based on quick, triangular exchanges. Speed and precision are what we want here and we saw that today."
On a high at seeing their team up among the Liga leaders once again, Villarreal's fans are heeding the words of Marcelino who – after witnessing the difficulties encountered in opening victories against Almería and Valladolid – urged caution. "We are competitive but can only make a balanced judgment after a third of the season has passed," he said. "There are teams who start very badly and who suddenly come good while the opposite can also happen so we must continue working."
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