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Thursday September 29 2016
Picking up the baton

Luke Taylor singles out Villarreal newcomers Fran Escriba and Nicola Sansone after helping the club start the season off in fine form.

Sacking the Coach, who in the space of three seasons had gone from winning you promotion back to the top flight to making it to a Europa League semi-final, just a week before the new campaign started was probably not the Villarreal board’s best hour. Combine that with appointing a new one who had just been sacked by Getafe after being stuck in the relegation zone and you get the idea that a state of uncertainty is a bit of an understatement regarding the Yellow Submarine’s start of the season.

As it stands though, things are looking a whole lot rosier. Fran Escriba’s side are unbeaten in the League after six games, including a trip to Santiago Bernabeu, and are not looking too dissimilar to the way the team played under Marcelino. Getting knocked out of the Champions League in the playoffs by Monaco was disappointing, but the Europa League is a competition that they can thrive in, evidenced by last term’s exploits.

It is early days, but credit must go to Escriba for sticking to what his players know. He has continued the brilliant work of his predecessor by maintaining the system and using what are very similar tactics on the whole. Perhaps he wasn’t given much choice, considering the amount of time he was given to prepare for the campaign, but certain Coaches like to implement their own ideas straight away, something which the 51-year-old has decided against.

Some of the football that has been played has been particularly easy on the eye as well. Every goal in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Osasuna came from fast, fluid build-up play, and the players look like they are enjoying their football. None more so than Nicola Sansone, a player who made the move from Sassuolo over the summer and who is the club’s top scorer so far with four goals.

The Italian’s story is an interesting one. Born in Munich to Italian parents, he started his professional career with Bayern, but after failing to make the grade in Bavaria, he looked to the country that he would one day represent to find more frequent game time at the top level. His best form came at Sassuolo, where he helped Eusebio Di Francesco’s surprise packages qualify for Europe.

Now, playing as a striker as opposed to his normal position out wide, he is scoring like never before, already at over half of his tally from last season. Sansone has been the one to make the headlines, but as was the case with Marcelino’s Villarreal, the contribution and effort from all areas of the pitch is absolutely crucial as well.

It should be interesting to see how Escriba’s Villarreal, though, shape up over the course of a season. They have started off well and have the depth to perform on all fronts, but whether the performance levels can be maintained is another question entirely.  

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