The Villarreal miracle: How did a side of Premier League rejects reach the Champions League semi-finals?

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When Villarreal line up for the Champions League anthem at Anfield on Wednesday and the TV camera pans over their players’ faces, many will be recognizable to regular Premier League viewers.

Unai Emery’s Yellow Submarine was propelled into the semi-finals by several players who plied their trade in the English top flight, many of whom struggled there.

While the team has a Spanish backbone, from striker Gerard Moreno to midfielder Dani Parejo and centre-back Pau Torres, many of those around them are a hodgepodge of Premier League scraps, forged in a cohesive unit on the east coast of Spain.

It’s a tight ship that has seen Juventus and Bayern Munich reach the commercial end of the Champions League, and will now face Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

Only Tottenham are heavily represented in the Villarreal squad, with Giovani Lo Celso on loan, while Serge Aurier, Etienne Capoue and Juan Foyth all have history in north London.

The same goes for midfielder Francis Coquelin, at Arsenal, while the player of the season of the Groguets (Yellow, in Valenciano), Arnaut Danjuma, arrived from Bournemouth, in the Championship.

Alberto Moreno, unfortunately with a long-term injury, was having a great campaign and will be a big miss against his former team, Liverpool.

Even goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli was Premier League property at one point, with Manchester City buying him from Deportivo Maldonado, despite them loaning him to Real Sociedad and he never played for the English team.

Vicente Iborra, meanwhile, spent two seasons with Leicester City, while Pervis Estupinan was a Watford player for four seasons, all of which he spent on loan in Spain at various clubs before Villarreal bought him in 2020. .

It’s Dutch striker Danjuma, however, who has had the biggest impact, particularly with Gerard Moreno troubled by injury problems, and in a half-winger, half-forward hybrid role, has been on fire in recent times. weeks.

He scored six times in 10 Champions League games, including against Juventus and Bayern, and terrorized Manchester United at Old Trafford, even as Villarreal were narrowly beaten.

“If we look at what I’ve done this season, it’s completely fair and factual to say that I’m among the best wingers in the world,” he said. The Guardian in a recent interview. Capable of stretching the field and regularly creating his own chances, it is difficult to disagree.

Villarreal paid 25m euros (£21m/$29m) for the winger, so his fine performances weren’t totally unexpected, even though he exceeded expectations, which sparked Liverpool’s interest in a possible transfer.

Many of the club’s other Premier League misfits have come at a much lower cost but have also played key roles this season, including Capua.

The French midfielder, 33, is enjoying an Indian summer in his career, to the point that there are rumors he will be included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the 2022 World Cup.

Capoue hasn’t played for Les Bleus since 2013, having won seven international caps, with one goal, against Belarus in 2012.

“I’m not on the station platform waiting for him,” Capoue said. The Team, surprised by the discussion. “I really don’t think about it, I’m fulfilled in my life. If one day I see my name on the list, it would be a huge surprise.

The defensive midfielder has played 37 times this season, however, reaching 2,943 minutes, the club’s fifth-best player in 2021-22, and isn’t slowing down.

Capoue struggled to make the move to Tottenham from Toulouse after moving to White Hart Lane in 2013 as one of seven signings the club made with money raised from the sale of Gareth Bale.

But he eventually found a home in England at Watford in 2015, where he remained until the January 2021 transfer window.

Villarreal took it from the league to European football and Capua rewarded them with a man-of-the-match display in the Europa League final as they beat Manchester United on penalties.

Etienne Capoue Villarreal GFX

Getty/GOAL

Other former Spurs players have also impressed this season in Foyth, Aurier and Lo Celso, and coach Emery believes they made the right decision to come to Spain.

“Tottenham are also a very big club, but here they could win things,” he said. Athleticism. “Tottenham have gone years without winning anything, no trophies.”

Lo Celso appeared sporadically for Spurs in the first half of the season before Villarreal eagerly signed him into the squad on loan in January, and he returned to La Liga like a glove.

Emery is keen to bring the 25-year-old on permanently this summer, with Lo Celso playing a key role in the goal that secured Villarreal’s passage to the semi-finals.

It was his through ball that Gerard Moreno gave striker Samu Chukwueze a key contribution to cap off a sparkling performance from the Argentina international.

Quote from Gio Lo Celso Villarreal GFX

Getty/GOAL

Lo Celso could be used further up the pitch against Liverpool, with Gerard Moreno unlikely to be fit for Wednesday night’s clash at Merseyside.

Foyth has been a regular right-back, shadowing his competition at Aurier. Rulli, meanwhile, has dislodged Sergio Asenjo in goal, while Iborra provides a capable save in midfield with Emery circling the Champions League games, and Coquelin has fought well against Bayern in the two legs.

Had it not been for a troublesome Achilles tendon problem, Coquelin would have been more present this season and Emery has been boosted by the former Arsenal midfielder’s return to training on Saturday.

He could be a key part of Emery’s plan to fight the Liverpool midfielder, shutting down brilliant Thiago Alcantara. He and teammate Parejo arrived from Valencia when Los Che’s financial problems forced them to sell some key players for a reduced fee in the summer of 2020.

Alone, Villarreal’s scattered Premier League players may have lacked consistency and meaningful success, but together they have reached new ground, with Liverpool standing between them and a first Champions League final.

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