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La Liga: Villarreal re-appoint Javi Calleja, 7 weeks after Sacking him
Alex Wrigley
Alex Wrigley
January 30, 2019
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Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.

There have been a few contenders for the role of La Liga’s crisis club this season but that is fast becoming Villarreal. Following five straight top six finishes, the Yellow Submarine find themselves deep in a genuine relegation battle. Things took a bizarre twist this week when they made the decision to turn back to Javier Calleja, just 50 days after sacking him.

Calleja’s replacement Luis Garcia was in charge for just six league games, failing to win any of them. As a result, the returning coach takes over with the side in an even bigger mess than when he left. Largely due to teams around them finding some form, Villarreal are now five points shy of safety and just one place off the bottom of the Spanish Primera Division.

What has gone wrong at Villarreal this season?

Villarreal’s failure to be at least pressing for the top six is one of the biggest mysteries of this season. To a large extent, Javi Calleja was perceived to have done a good job last term. He took over early in the season following a rapid ascent from the club’s youth ranks and continued to help develop some of the club’s young talent in a senior side which finished in 5th and as the best of the rest behind a top four that was comfortably superior to the other 16 teams.

This season though, with in theory more time to mould the team into his own, Calleja failed to really develop a clear style or philosophy. The formation changed frequently early on in the campaign as Calleja struggled to settle on a preferred way of playing. The failures were most striking at home where Villarreal have one of La Liga’s worst home records, having won just once in front of their own fans.

It wasn’t all Calleja’s fault though. Very much a coach, he was effectively powerless to stop the sales of Rodri to Atletico Madrid and Samu Castillejo to Milan in the summer. Those moves were very unpopular with the supporters as two of their brightest young talents, players Calleja had helped to develop left. Rodri in particular has gone on to prove what a class act he is becoming and it’s not surprising that his presence has been missed at his former club.

Villarreal also sold key striker Cedric Bakambu for big money to Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League last January with the premise that he would be replaced in the summer. They spent around £40 million on new forwards in the off-season but those players have failed to deliver. Summer additions Gerard Moreno, Carlos Bacca and Karl Toko Ekambi were supposed to offer real firepower but none of those players have passed 4 league goals, 21 matches into the season. Things haven’t gone much better at the other end, with their defence considerably shakier than in recent years.

Why have they turned back to Calleja?

It’s perhaps not a great surprise that Luis Garcia was dismissed. 50 days may not be enough time to judge a coach but this is a club with one of La Liga’s largest budgets that is now panicking at the prospect of relegation. The consequences of a drop to the Segunda Division could be severe and unlike in 2012 when they did go down with a team that was considered far too good for the drop, the prospect is being taken more seriously this term. The Villarreal board clearly decided they couldn’t take the risk of waiting a few more games in the hope that Garcia got it right. The situation is not dissimilar to the one at troubled Monaco, where Leonardo Jardim has effectively replaced his replacement Thierry Henry.

The reasons for turning back to Calleja at Villarreal are harder to pinpoint. Unlike Jardim he doesn’t have a proven managerial track record to fall back on. Senior figures on the Villarreal board have suggested they simply realised they had made a mistake in sacking Calleja but that’s not completely the whole story.

Spanish rules prevent coaches from taking charge of two separate teams in the same season. Therefore the likes of Julen Lopetegui, Eduardo Berizzo and Asier Garitano were all unavailable despite having lost Primera Division jobs this term. Calleja meanwhile would have had to wait until next season before taking another role in Spain so to some extent least there was some logic in them returning to the 40 year old.

Calleja at least knows the club and the players inside out having spent 7 years there as a player and a further 7 at the Ceramica in a coaching role. He now faces the biggest challenge of his career in football as he aims to keep the Yellow Submarine afloat.

A Relegation Battle that could go to the Wire

Villarreal’s hopes of survival aren’t helped by transfer rumours that star midfielder Pablo Fornals, who has a relatively low release fee, could leave the club this month. Overall, the battle at the bottom end of La Liga is one that looks set for a fascinating scrap that could go right to the wire. Huesca look effectively down but the other places could be filled by any two of about ten sides in a season when it may take more than 40 points to stay up.

The form of Rayo Vallecano is a big reason for that. They were in deep trouble a month back but 4 wins from 5 games has lifted the Madrid club out of the drop-zone and dragged a whole host of other teams into the mess. Currently the other relegation positions are filled by Villarreal and Celta Vigo, another club that wasn’t expected to struggle and may soon make their second coaching alteration of the season.

However any side from 10th placed Eibar down will have reason to worry. The Basque minnows may be in the top half but they are only 5 points above the relegation zone and a poor run of form can see a team plummet down the league in this current climate. That has happened to Espanyol of late. Their 4-2 defeat to Real Madrid last Sunday was their 9th loss in 10 games and the early season high-flyers will be one team that Villarreal will be hopeful of overhauling. The two sides meet in a huge game this weekend as Calleja aims to get his second stint in charge off to a winning start.

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