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Before the 5-1 loss against Villarreal CF, Real Sociedad hadn't lost a game in La Liga since November 9th 2013 in a game that also finished with a  5-1 score against Real Madrid. Just as the race for first place is led by three teams – FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid – the fourth place race, that will give its winner a chance to be amongst the best 32 European clubs next season, is also led by three clubs: Athletic de Bilbao, Villarreal, and Real Sociedad. 

There is a chance Sevilla FC gets into the Champions League mix after Sunday night’s tie vs. Atletico in Madrid, as the Andalusian squad has eight consecutive league games without a loss.


In this battle for a Champions League spot, Mexican internationals Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Javier Aquino will be involved. While Giovani and Aquino are fundamental players in Villarreal’s historic return to the First Division (after 20 league games played, the Submarino Amarillo tied Valladolid’s points record for a newly-promoted club, which occurred in the 1962-63 season). And also in a statistic provided by Pedro Martin of Cadena Cope, Vela has intervened with goals or assists in 16 of la Real’s 38 goals.


Villarreal’s home win against Real Sociedad was dominant, led by an inspired Gio who finished the game with two goals and two assists. That game was not a memorable one for Vela, who rarely touched the ball.


Aquino has been involved in all league games for Villarreal, 13 from the start, and seven coming off the bench. What makes “Javi” an important player for Marcelino Garcia Toral’s team is the Mexican winger's ability to defend well and his capacity to start counter attacks coming from Villarreal’s territory.


Carlos’ last game vs. Getafe CF in Madrid last Sunday ended 2-2. It was a second straight full-of-doubts performance away from Anoeta. At one point, la Real led 0-2 and was dominating the match. Vela assisted both Imanol Agirretxe goals. The result was a negative one for la Real because they played with one extra player for the last 30 minutes of the game and were unable to score a winner; Getafe came closer to scoring the winner than Real Sociedad. Villarreal defeated UD Almeria 2-0 with a Giovani assist included.


Real Sociedad returns to Anoeta to host Elche CF where they have six wins, two draws, and one loss, while Villarreal will visit Real Valladolid: Away from El Madrigal, Gio and Aquino’s team has a record of five wins, one draw, and three losses. After Sunday night, Villarreal held the fourth spot in La Liga with 37 points, followed by Athletic Club Bilbao with 36 (Athletic plays Monday night), and Real Sociedad has landed 33 points thus far.   


At close to the halfway mark of the Spanish La Liga, Villarreal CF find themselves in a UEFA Champions League berth.  The “Yellow Submarine” is a team that recently ascended from second division and has had a great first 14 games in La Liga BBVA with an 8-3-3 record.

“To talk about a Champions position is easy, it’s easy to talk,” Villarreal Coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said about the team’s current location on the league table.  “But we need less talk and more work.  Our objective is good judgment and maximum effort.  We still face 2/3’s of the league and that is complicated.  Only time will tell.”

One of the reasons why Villarreal is having a great season is due to the recent signing of Mexican international Giovani dos Santos during the summer transfer window. The 2005 U-17 FIFA World Cup champion has been called “el comandante” by the Spanish press for his skills and leadership on the field.  He is an important piece of Garcia Toral’s lineup having scored six goals with three assists this season.

“Giovani is an important player,” Garcia Toral said about the former FC Barcelona star.  “He increases the chances of scoring when he is on attack and that is a good thing.”

Giovani is returning from an injury.  This Friday’s game against Malaga CF will be the first time this season that Garcia Toral will have his first team ready to hit the pitch. Gio suffered a pinch in his right quadriceps and was taken off the field in the game against Elche on Nov. 4, 2013.  With Gio on the injured list, the team managed a 1-1 draw against Atlético de Madrid and a 3-0 over Levante.

“He’s coming off an injury, we’ll see if he is ready to start a game,” Garcia Toral added. “The good thing is that he will retake form step-by-step.  That’s good for us.”

The team returns to El Madrigal stadium to take on Malaga CF.  Garcia Toral is hoping that with his full lineup the “Yellow Submarine” could return to winning at home.  Villarreal has not won at home since a 4-1 victory over CF Valencia on Oct. 27, 2013.

“Past games don’t matter,” Garcia Toral concluded.  “We have to be aware, maintain our current rhythm, and our concentration.”

Villarreal has been one of the welcome success stories of the Spanish season to date. The club is currently fourth in the table on it's return to the top flight after a one-year absence, with draws against Atlético and Real Madrid and high-scoring victories over Osasuna, Granada and Valencia seeing it establish itself as a genuine top four contender.

It is a situation that would've seemed unthinkable back in January, when the club was seventh in the second division, six points shy of the playoff places. With its promotion bid faltering, Villarreal called on Marcelino García Toral, a man the club had tried to sign on two previous occasions, to turn its campaign around. 13 wins, 6 draws and two defeats later, Villarreal was promoted in second place.

Marcelino, who rose to prominence on the back of excellent work with Recreativo and Racing Santander, but did not enjoy the same success at Zaragoza or Sevilla, was not an obvious choice for a club defined by a possession-based, short passing style that did not seem to mesh with his more vertical approach. Its previous flirtation with a similar type of coach ended badly when Ernesto Valverde - now riding high with Athletic Bilbao, just a point behind Villarreal in fifth - was sacked in the January of his first season in charge.

In fact, Marcelino’s appointment has been just what the club needed to push past its reliance on the style of play first introduced by Benito Floro and developed into a winning formula by Manuel Pellegrini between 2004 and 2009. The procession of in-house coaches who followed Valverde may have understood the philosophy, but did not share the tactical acumen of Pellegrini, whose ability to make small alterations in formation and style was key to the success he enjoyed with the club. His successors were guilty of treating the philosophy as a fixed set of commandments instead of a modifiable template.