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Europa League Q&A: Villarreal Edition

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Sitting down with Villarreal's SBNation site Villarreal USA to talk tactics, players, coaches, and gazpacho.

Fowler above, that is a fine croppa black, Mr. Marcelino!
Fowler above, that is a fine croppa black, Mr. Marcelino!
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In a game about love, it's always fun to share it with fans from other clubs. No #topbantz here, just some good old chewing of the fat with Villarreal USA over our upcoming Europa League tie with the well drilled Yellow Submarine.

The Liverpool Offside: First thing is first: Why did you guys pick the silliest Beatles song for your nickname? Why not The Weeping Guitar or The Warm Gun?

VUSA: Those other songs have too many words!!!

TLO: Pressing and counterpressing, in general, has seen a steady rise in popularity in the game. The system has certainly turned Liverpool's fortunes around under Jürgen Klopp. But that's not the only way the cookie crumbles.

Villarreal aren't a swashbuckling, pressing/counterpressing side, are they? What can we expect tactically from the Yellow Submarine?

VUSA: At home, we like to move the ball around quickly and look for goalscoring opportunities--look for Manu Trigueros, who is more of a passer than Tomas Pina, to partner Bruno Soriano in the middle of the pitch.

Expect our back four to push up and we'll try to play some neat possession stuff around the box and try to get some chances. A key to our success will be how quickly we can recover the ball once we lose it in the attacking third.

On the road, we are happier to concede possession and try to create chances on the counter, and we'll press more--partly to create turnovers ourselves, but more to break up the rhythm of the home side. This worked really well for us at Leverkusen, where we were defending a 2-0 lead from the first leg.

TLO: We see you guys have yourselves a young Suarez -- how are the incisors coming in? In all seriousness, are you happy with the 15 combined goals/assist output from the Celta de Vigo graduate, or can he be doing more?

VUSA: We're very happy with him, but Barcelona have a repurchase option on him so we expect to lose him in the summer. He has done well for us, especially as the season has gone on.

TLO: Is Mario Gaspar a tomato basil fan, or is he more partial to Gasparcho?

Villarreal USA: Tomatoes go into a sofrito, first step in making a fine paella, so says Super Mario.

TLO: Daniel Sturridge is a world class talent who has put Redkind through an emotional meat grinder with his injury history over the years. But you guys also have a world class glassman, don't you?

Tell us about Mateo Mussachio, and how his central defensive partnership has gelled with young Ivorian Erick Bertrand Bailly. Who plays Daredevil to the other's Punisher?

VUSA: Musacchio has had a tough season--breaking his ankle horrifically last April, pulling his hamstring in late February (and then playing for Argentina in a WC qualifier and hurting it again). It seems as though he has been at Villarreal forever, but he only turns 26 in August. I'd say he's Punisher--positionally sound, tactically clever, and a target man on corners, plus he has a great angry look on his face when he's carded!

Bailly is Daredevil--he'll battle one-on-one with anybody, he's not as experienced but is more than willing to give as good as he gets. He's not afraid to tackle and win the ball back on a one-on-one, and he'll support the attack in the other half of the pitch. Musacchio is a good tackler as well, but doesn't get himself caught as much in positions where he has to. Which also means he is more likely to stay back if Bailly moves up.

Both of these guys are (of course) the subject of transfer rumors, Musacchio's rights are now owned wholly by Villarreal which makes a move more likely (when Spurs were interested in him a couple of years ago, River Plate still owned some of his rights, so it was difficult to pull off a deal).

TLO: Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is on loan from Paris Saint Germain, and his form has truly been sharp enough to cut glass this year. 14 clean sheets, 2.5 saves per goal, an impressive physicality, and stands up well to attempts to pinch him with pressure from the front.

Do you think he will be challenging Hugo Lloris for the French gloves in the near future? Or would you rather nip this line of questioning in the bud, so you can quietly augment your defense with a permanent move in the Summer?

VUSA: The Gato Grande is terrific. He commands his area, and has been outstanding. I'd love it if we could sign him permanently. So let's just stop there.

TLO: One of the most impressive things about Villarreal over the years has been the club's ability to punch above its financial weight and restock its playing staff with diamonds in the rough, discarded veterans, and young on-deck stars. Reina, Forlan, Riquelme, Senna, Rossi, dos Santos, Vietto, Suarez, Areola, Bakambu--the list goes on.

Are Villarreal just pulling rabbits out of hats here, or is there something more systematic at play with how the club is run?

VUSA: It's systematic. The club has always invested a lot in scouting, especially in South America. That brought us players like Senna, Vietto and Musacchio. What's changed in recent years is we've been looking more to other leagues to find those sorts of deals. Bakambu from Turkey, Jeremy Perbet (no longer with us, but a key in our promotion season) came from Belgium.

The other thing we have always done is be financially responsible, which has helped us move quickly to obtain players already in Spain. Riquelme, dos Santos, Reina, Suarez, Eric Bailly....these guys joined us from other Primera sides where they weren't getting much playing time.

And then we supplement that with players who come up from our youth ranks (Bruno Soriano, Mario Gaspar, Manu Trigueros being current examples) and occasional bigger forays into the international transfer market (Forlan, Rossi, Soldado). It's harder now than it used to be, though--the big clubs have so much more money now, and anyone in the EPL has as big a budget as we do.

TLO: Tell us about Marcelino. How does he get away with a more Brazilian sounding name than actual Brazilian Marcelo? Do Villarreal fans pine for the available-again Manuel Pellegrini or is the Spaniard in it for the long haul?

VUSA: Ha! It's taken us awhile, but I think we are finally over the Pellegrini era. Marce is in it for the long haul. Pelle had the advantage of coaching back when it was easier to compete financially to obtain players than now, and Sr. Roig isn't going to throw Marcelino under the bus for Pellegrini at this point. If we were a mid-table team with no European future, it would be different.

TLO: Cedric Bakambu: just pace and a right peg, or is there something more brewing there?

VUSA: Bakambu--he is a streaky finisher, which he needs to work on, but he has pace and strength and can do a good job pressing defensively too. I hope we can hang on to him for at least another year, but EPL/Serie A/La Liga top three are starting to circle.

TLO: In your last Europa League tie against Sparta Prague, you shipped an away goal in a 2-1 first leg, before sewing it up in Prague with a conservative, opportunistic, and well organized away showing.

In our last Europa League tie against Dortmund, we nabbed an away goal in a 1-1 first leg, before taking years off everyone's lives with the out of body experience that was the return leg at Anfield.

So, how do you see this playing out? Tit for tat tactical grindhouse or an open, fly by the seat of your pants encounter that will prematurely age us all?

VUSA: We should have won that first leg about 8-1 though, and Sparta just wasn't a side with a lot of defensive solidity. They couldn't keep a game tight. I think Villarreal are going to be focused first and foremost on keeping a clean sheet at home--that Sparta goal was the only one we've allowed in El Madrigal.

We'll try for 2-0, 1-0; for you guys I think it will be a lot like Dortmund, where if you can get an away goal you'll feel comfortable for the return tie.

So, more of a tactical grind house in this leg, I'd think.

TLO: Scoreline prediction?

VUSA: Villarreal need to go to Anfield defending a lead to have a chance in this tie. I'm going to say 2-1 Villarreal in the first leg; I just don't think we want to get into a goalfest with you guys, so yeah, we'll all age a lot.