It may be early days in the Spanish La Liga campaign of 2015-16 but neither of the Madrid teams nor Barcelona lead the league table with unbeaten Villarreal currently setting the pace. Villarreal have yet to win the league title in Spain and have been runners-up on only one occasion but five successive victories following an opening day 1-1 draw at Real Betis have propelled the team to top position with a visit to lowly Levante scheduled for next weekend.
Villarreal were considered more of a second or third tier team until they were promoted to the top flight of Spanish football for the first time at the end of the 1997-98 campaign. There followed the golden period for the team during the early millennium years when they became UEFA Champions League semi-finalists when beaten by a solitary Arsenal goal and reaching two Europa League semi-finals. Splitting Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the 2007-08 La Liga season was another notable achievement.
The relegation season of 2011-12 proved to be just a temporary setback for the club as a quick promotion was achieved, with commendable sixth placed finishes in the two subsequent La Liga campaigns. It was expected that the sale of leading striker Luciano Vietto would affect Villarreal at the start of the current season but 12 goals have already been netted with three netted in games against Espanyol, Granada and Athletic Bilbao.
Yet it was the 1-0 weekend home win against Atletico Madrid which suggested that Villarreal could emerge as outsiders to cause an upset in the La Liga title race. In a game during which Vietto was introduced as a half-time substitute for the opponents, the home team were able to rely on summer recruit from Atletico, Leonardo Baptistao, to provide the only goal of the game.
With the proceeds of the Vietto sale, Villarreal did persuade Roberto Soldado to return from Tottenham into Spanish football, where he was a prolific striker for Valencia, and also recruited Cedric Bakambu from Turkish team Bursaspor in the hope that he could reproduce his goal ratio of 13 from 27 league appearances last season. Three goals from four matches has been a favourable start for the Congolese international.
Time will be the deciding factor as to whether Villarreal can maintain their position at the head of affairs in La Liga but October does appear to be another relatively easier month as regards domestic fixtures before crucial matches against Sevilla and Barcelona feature at the beginning of November.
Villarreal Manager Marcelino has yet to win anything of real significance during an18 year career involved in guiding several Spanish clubs but should his current team provide real opposition for Real Madrid and Barcelona in the coming months, it will prove that the past few weeks have been no fluke.
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