Champions League team guide: Villarreal in the spotlight
Villarreal are back at the continent’s top table after their triumphant 2020-21 Europa League campaign.
Unai Emery’s side saw off Group F rivals Manchester United in last season’s Gdansk final following a dramatic penalty shootout.
The Europa League winners go straight into the Champions League group stage, meaning Spain have five teams in this year’s tournament.
That is a significant boost for Villarreal, who only managed to finish seventh in LaLiga last season and would not have qualified.
Villarreal's Champions League group
Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, Young Boys
That Europa League win was Villarreal’s first major title, though they do have European pedigree.
Their biggest achievements on the continent came under Manuel Pellegrini in the mid-2000s.
They reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2005 where they were narrowly defeated by Arsenal — losing just 1-0 on aggregate as Juan Roman Riquelme missed a last-minute penalty in the second leg.
Four years later, they made it to the quarter-finals but were knocked out by Arsenal once again — this time by a more convincing 4-1 aggregate scoreline.
Villarreal have not made it to the Champions League knockout rounds since those memorable runs with Pellegrini at the helm, and have only made it to the group stage itself on one occasion since then.
They have been regulars in the Europa League though, often appearing in the knockout stages of that competition before they finally put their name on the trophy last season.
Rivals United will be out for revenge and Atalanta will provide a stern test — meaning qualifying for the latter stages will still be a significant achievement.
Dropping into the Europa League would at least mean the chance to defend their crown but Villarreal will be aiming to still be in Europe’s premier competition at the business end of the season.
Star man: Gerard Moreno
Gerard Moreno, 29, was joint-top scorer in the Europa League last season and will be looking to make his mark among the continent’s elite this term.
As well as those strikes, he scored 23 goals in 33 LaLiga games last campaign — putting him joint-second in the league’s goalscoring charts alongside Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
He has already netted in Europe in 2021-22, scoring his side’s equaliser in the Super Cup against Chelsea, and will be hungry for more over the coming months.
One to watch: Samuel Chukwueze
Having turned 22 this year, Nigerian star Samuel Chukwueze is expected to make the step up and further fulfil his considerable potential this season.
The Champions League will provide him with the perfect platform, as he may end up playing against many of the big-hitters vying for his signature.
Chukwueze is an exciting right-winger who is extremely dangerous when cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.
This will be his first appearance in the Champions League, but we will surely see more of the 19-cap international on this stage in the years ahead.
The boss: Unai Emery
Can Europa League expert Emery translate his success in that competition to the Champions League?
The Spaniard has managed at this level before with Valencia, Sevilla, and Paris Saint-Germain but results have been mixed.
He was PSG manager for their famous last 16 collapse against Barcelona in 2017, when they were 4-0 up from the first leg but lost 6-1 in the second game at the Camp Nou.
Emery won three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016, and also reached a final with Arsenal in 2019 before last season’s triumph with his current club.
He appears to be a good fit for Villarreal and will be looking to emulate Pellegrini’s Champions League feats with the Yellow Submarine this season.
All information correct as of 10am, September 3, 2021