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Know Thine Enemy: Villarreal-Atlético Madrid Q&A with Allen Dodson

The Villarreal USA writer gave us his thoughts on Saturday’s battle at La Ceramica.

Villarreal CF v Rangers - UEFA Europa League Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Fernando Roig has been on the warpath in recent days, declaring that Villarreal’s relationship with Atlético Madrid is broken. What’s going on there?

Apparently it’s OK for Atleti to talk to Rodri and Vietto while they are under contract with us, but not an extremely promising 15 year-old youth player?

Sr. Roig was ticked off at Athletic Club, too, for the same reason, passing up the traditional presidential welcome and meal at San Mamés (which given the high standard of Basque cooking, must have been quite a sacrifice).

Villarreal is in a tough spot—being in a small town with a 25,000 capacity stadium (which we don’t fill), our ability to increase revenues is pretty limited and Financial Fair Play is a big constraint. We depend on TV money, and ultimately we hope to develop some youngsters who play with us a while and get sold on for good money. So signing a youth player for nothing when they turn 16 is pretty much taking away future revenues.

(It probably doesn’t help his mood that both Atleti and Athletic Club play in huge new stadiums, and in Atleti’s case seems to have gotten them out of a financial hole as far as the taxman is concerned).

How hot is Javi Calleja’s seat after an underwhelming start to the season?

He probably feels as though he’s sitting in one of those super-large paella pans over a wood fire, to be honest. His biggest advantage right now is that everyone wants him to succeed—he was a popular player and made a quick (too quick) rise up the coaching ranks with us. I said earlier this year I thought he had until the next international break to get things sorted out, and I still think that’s true. He seems to have the dressing room still and there is certainly a question as to what degree our poor start is on him and to what degree it’s on the front office and bad luck with injuries.

How much has Rodri been missed?

Barcelona v Villarreal - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Hugely, especially since the player we signed to replace him (Caseres) is out, the player we signed as a backup (Javi Fuego) is out and the club legend that made the position his own (Bruno) is out — and may never return. We’ve had to play a converted defender (Funes Mori) in his place.

Where Rodri was great was in winning the ball back quickly and making a simple pass to one of our attacking midfielders (Trigueros, Fornals especially). We miss that.

What is Pablo Fornals’ ceiling? Seems like every time I watch him he gets better and better.

The scary thing is I don’t think we always play in such a way to get the best out of Fornals. He runs like crazy, he’s a demon passer—but that goal against Athletic notwithstanding, he needs to become a better finisher. Last year he scored three goals to go with 12 assists — if he can become better at scoring himself, he can walk into any side he wants. He has a great feel for the game, and we have used him in various positions and formations in midfield.

He’s under contract to 2022, by the way.

Oh good, another year or so and I can fire up the “Fornals to Atleti” train!

Atlético have often been the cure for what ails Villarreal — they’ve lost this fixture three years running. How do the hosts extend that run?

Last year was a smash-and-grab with two Enes Ünal goals in the last 10 minutes, and that’s not going to happen again, at least from Ünal (who is on loan to Valladolid). We don’t even know what formation Calleja will use—he’s experimented in practice with the 4-2-3-1 that worked well late last season.

Villarreal have to come out convinced they can win, and a little luck would help—since Atleti are giving up a goal every 20+ shots and Villarreal are only scoring every 20 shots, a deflection off someone into Oblak’s net would be helpful. We have to defend well and not make individual errors, which Antoine Griezmann will punish.

Scoreline prediction?

I’m going with 1-1, mostly because if there are lots of goals in this, they’ll be Atleti’s. If Atleti score twice, it’s all over for us.