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Friday January 8 2016
Rise of the Yellow Submarine

Villarreal's great form in La Liga sees them firmly in contention for next season's Champions League, and Edin Halilovic thinks the top four is well within their reach.

Villarreal finished sixth in La Liga and made it to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey last season, as well as the latter stages of the Europa League, in what was a solid campaign for the Yellow Submarine, given it was only their second year back in the top flight since relegation in 2012. But, despite all their good work on the pitch, they took a battering off it in the summer transfer window.

All four forwards, Luciano Vietto, Giovani dos Santos, Gerard Moreno, and Ikechukwu Uche, departed, while key squad players, such as Denis Cheryshev and Joel Campbell, went back to their parent clubs at the end of their loans. That, on top of the fact they would go into the new season knowing Sergio Asenjo and Mateo Musacchio would be on the sidelines for an extended period with long-term injury problems, meant Villarreal had plenty of work to do to reinforce their squad and go through somewhat of a rebuild, with several standout figures from 14-15 unavailable.

Villarreal though, a club known for their ability to spot talents and sign good players on bargains over the years, with Santi Cazorla, Juan Roman Riquelme, Giuseppe Rossi, and Gonzalo Rodriguez being some of the finest examples, did a fantastic job of replacing those that left and don't look to be missing any of them too much.

Roberto Soldado, who had such a tough time in England with Tottenham Hotspur, looks to be regaining his confidence in front of goal, while Cedric Bakambu looks to be one of the signings of the season, having already netted 10 times since his transfer from Bursaspor. Denis Suarez has taken his game a step further this year since moving to El Madrigal for a cut-price fee, with his new, left-wing role giving him the freedom he needs to express himself on the pitch, which he lacked at Sevilla on occasions last year. At the back, Victor Ruiz has continued his good performances since making his loan permanent from Valencia, while Alphonse Areola’s consistency in goal since arriving on loan will give even more headaches to the hierarchy at Paris Saint-Germain on just how soon they plan on bringing the potential France No 1 back to Parc des Prances.

Leo Baptistao, on loan from Atletico Madrid, has been averaging a goal every two games this term, and Villarreal won’t hesitate to try making his stay permanent if he can keep this level of performance going. The former Malaga pair of Samu Garcia and Samu Castillejo have only shown their undoubted talent in fits and spurts, but it must be remembered that they are still young and have plenty of time ahead of them, leaving only Adrian Lopez and Daniele Bonera as having yet to prove their worth, but it hardly overshadows what seems to have been a summer of shrewd transfer business for the club in hindsight.

It wasn’t just the players they spent money on that have been good additions to the team either, with promoted Argentine youngster Matias Nahuel proving to be strong competition on the flanks with over 20 appearances made this campaign and looking like one for the future. Credit must not only go to the directors and scouts, but also Coach Marcelino and his backroom staff, whom have done an excellent job of bedding in all these players and building a solid team, which possesses a blend of both youth and experience in all departments.

Villarreal currently lie in fourth place in La Liga, five points clear of their nearest challengers Celta Vigo and 10 and 12 points respectively clear of this season’s Champions League participants Sevilla and Valencia, while they are still active in the latter stages of the Copa del Rey and the Europa League.

So far, they’ve exceeded expectations, and despite a couple of bad patches, coupled with the inconsistency of their rivals, it looks like Villarreal may yet have plenty to look forward to this season as their hopes of playing in the Champions League for the first time since 2011 grow stronger with each week.

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