Into the Calderón: How much does this team miss Cedric Bakambu and how much has his departure changed the course of Villarreal’s season?
Allen Dodson: A lot. A whole lot. With him, we were realistically challenging for a Champions League place; without him, we’re nowhere close. He was the guy who could open up defenses for us.
ItC: What are Atlético Madrid fans in for next season if Rodri’s transfer is completed as expected?
AD: Rodri is a tremendous young talent—he’s someone who is great at recovering the ball, an excellent tackler and good in the air. His passing stats are a bit misleading because he’s not—at least, not yet—a player who makes an incisive pass forward to start an attack, but he’s the player who recovers the ball and makes a short safe pass to a teammate who THEN can make that incisive pass.
ItC: Who do you hope to hold on to (or who do you think you can hold on to) this summer?
AD: We need to hold onto Pablo Fornals—he is a player to build around. Samu Castillejo is a player who may leave. I’d like to hold onto Sansone and Roberto Soriano, even though they have not had great seasons. Enes Ünal and Carlos Bacca should stay, but we need to sign someone who can replace Bakambu—a mobile, fast striker. And we need to give Alfonso Pedraza (currently on loan at Alaves) a role with our team. Sergio Asenjo is a great keeper; I don’t see anyone in our back four leaving but we need to strengthen CB especially. And of course if the Atleti deal for Rodri falls through, we’d like that!
ItC: I can offer you one gently-used Stefan Savić in exchange!
As far as this season is concerned, are you confident of finishing in a Europa League place despite the shaky form of late?
AD: Not really, but we typically play well against good opposition and of our ten remaining matches, five are against the teams ahead of us in the table. So if we finish in the top 6, we will have deserved it. I’m looking at Girona as our main threat, because they own the tiebreaker, and I would not rule Real Betis out either; I sense Eibar (sorry, my EibarUSA buddies) may have plateaued, and Celta Vigo remain too in-and-out.
ItC: Villarreal usually play very well at home against Atlético and won this fixture 3-0 last year. How can they secure another win against los colchoneros?
AD: Last year was a bit of a fluke because you played so badly, but I think we have to play intelligently. We can’t give away dangerous free kicks and lots of corners, we have to find a way through Atleti’s defense and we must avoid letting Diego Costa provoke us (he always tries).
ItC: Finally: scoreline prediction?
AD: There is no reason why I should predict more than one or two goals between the two teams, but I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw.