Season preview: Villarreal

Season preview: Villarreal
© PA Photos
Sports Mole discusses whether Villarreal can consolidate their spot in La Liga next season, or whether they could be threatened with relegation once more.

Despite finishing in the top 10 in La Liga from 2004 to 2011, Villarreal dropped into Spain's second tier last season after finishing 18th in the division.

The Yellow Submarine returned at the first time of asking, however, with second place in the Segunda Division enough to book their spot in Spain's top flight.

Here, Sports Mole discusses whether Villarreal can consolidate their spot in the league next season, or whether they could be threatened with relegation once more.

In: Giovani dos Santos (Real Mallorca), Tomas Pina (Real Mallorca), Jermey Perbet (Mons), Aleksandar Pantic (Red Star), Bojan Jokic (Chievo Verona), Jonathan Pereira (Real Betis), Sergio Asenjo (Atletico Madrid – Loan)

Out: Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Gerard Bordas (Girona), Joselu (Huelva), Diego Marino (Real Valladolid), Javi Venta (Brentford), Guillem Truyols (Real Murcia), Joan Oriol (Osasuna), Olof Mellberg (Copenhagen), Marcos Senna (New York Cosmos), Juanma (Alaves)

Last season: Segunda Division, Second

Manager: Marcelino Garcia Toral

Three key players:

Giovani dos Santos© PA Photos
Giovani dos Santos: In a struggling Real Mallorca side, Giovani stuck out like a sore thumb last season. When his team were struggling for inspiration, it was the Mexican that pulled them out of trouble, however, despite his best efforts, Mallorca were relegated last season. It was not a surprise to see the 24-year-old immediately return to the top flight, with Villarreal moving quickly to secure his services. Despite operating from a wide position last season, he found the back of the net on six occasions in 29 games. His record for his country is also very impressive, with 14 goals in 68 caps. Giovani began his career at Barcelona, before enduring an unsuccessful spell in England with Tottenham Hotspur. His talent has never been in question, however, with a number of clubs interested in his signature this summer. Villarreal won that race they will probably not regret it.

Villareal's Cani in action on October 18, 2011© Getty Images
Cani: After such great service for Villarreal since joining in 2006, the club's supporters would have forgiven Cani for departing after they dropped out of Spain's top flight last season. There were offers from a number of European clubs, but the experienced Spaniard decided to remain with the club. The 31-year-old began his career in the youth ranks at Real Zaragoza, before going on to make 122 league appearances for the first team. He swapped Zaragoza for Villarreal in 2006, however, where he has since made 224 league appearances for the Spanish outfit. On their return to La Liga, there is no question that Villarreal need leadership. They have plenty of exciting prospects in their youth team, but Cani could well be the first name on the teamsheet in the new campaign.

Viktoria Plzen's Vaclav Prochazka strikes the ball past Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo on December 6, 2012© PA Photos
Sergio Asenjo: "If Asenjo had the talent, he would have broken into the first team at Atletico Madrid" is a statement that is often aimed at the 24-year-old stopper. However, when considering the facts, Asenjo has been at Atletico with two of the finest young goalkeepers in world football. He was forced to play second fiddle to David de Gea before the Spaniard joined Manchester United, while Atletico now boast Chelsea stopper Thibaut Courtois in their ranks. The 6' stopper has had his fair share of injuries in recent seasons, but if he can secure a regular run of games, then there is no doubt that he will become a key player for Villarreal in the new campaign. Who knows? He could replace Courtois as Atletico's number one next season.

First game: Almeria (A) Aug 19

Sports Mole says: It was, without question, one of the biggest shocks in Spanish football when Villarreal were relegated from La Liga at the end of the 2012-2012 season. Often considered a top-10 team at the very worst, they finished second in the 2007-2008 campaign, before securing respectable fifth, seventh and fourth spot in the seasons that followed. You just get the feeling that they simply had to return at the first time of asking, which was the case last season. They have let experienced professionals Olof Mellberg and Marcos Senna seek pastures new this summer, but Toral has made some very clever signings in the transfer market, with Tomas Pina another that is expected to play a key role in the new campaign. I shouldn't think Villarreal will make too many noises in the new season, but I would be astounded if they found themselves in trouble come May.

Predicted finish: 13th

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