ROBERTO SOLDADO GIVEN GREEN LIGHT FOR RETURN
Roberto Soldado given green light for return amidst Villarreal struggles
It has been a long while since Roberto Soldado’s boots have graced the pitch of a LaLiga fixture, you would have to go all the way back to May and the final game of last season to find trace of the Spaniard’s influence.
As ex-coach Marcelino headed out of the exit door before the current campaign got underway, Soldado was receiving his own bad news. A cruciate ligament and meniscus injury to his knee ruled the Villarreal striker out for at least six months, picked up during a pre-season friendly against Deportivo La Coruna, devastating his hopes of a pain-free LaLiga term.
Hamstring and other muscle problems were no stranger to Soldado at this point of his career, but such a debilitating knee problem was a new test altogether, both physically and mentally.
Three days after the incident, the 31-year-old underwent surgery and was on the mend, with the full support of his club, teammates and coach. The six months of rest and recuperation have now passed, allowing for Soldado to rejoin full training after some weeks of light work to strengthen his knee.
“It is something that flatters me,” the Spaniard told Cadena SER, when told of how the supporters are keenly awaiting his return to first-team action.
“But I don’t feel the pressure. It is a injury that needs some adapting to, but I have spent three weeks working with the team and finally I see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The truth is that I’m already excited to be with my teammates and to help the team,” he explained.
In terms of help, Villarreal certainly could do with a goalscoring boot or two. Nicola Sansone’s early-season form has dried up, leaving him with seven goals in 20 league games, with Cedric Bakambu offering just two. Alexandre Pato was sold to turn over a nice six-month profit for the club in the winter transfer window, with Adrian yet to find the back of the net since joining on loan from Porto in January.
Fran Escriba’s men have scored more than one goal in a league game on just one occasion in 2017, and that 2-0 victory came at home against relegation strugglers Granada. There is a need for someone to fill the void, galvanise and link together the Yellow Submarine’s front line. This desperation at the out-of-form current options will go some way to lower the immediate expectations for the squad’s long-term absentee.
It is necessary to go all the way back to April of last year to find the last time that Soldado scored a competitive goal, but the Spaniard has free-scoring pedigree from his first spell in Spain to support his claim for a first-team place.
Before making the switch to English football, sentencing himself to two hit-and-miss years with Tottenham at White Hart Lane, Soldado was a menace for both Valencia and Getafe. While there may have a freedom to plying his trade outside of Real Madrid, the club which brought him through their youth ranks, the immediate expectation to perform in the pace-heavy Premier League appeared too much.
After making 22 starts in his first season in England, a paltry return of six league goals saw him make merely seven top-flight starts the next campaign. His Europa League form was more promising, as the poacher netted seven goals in 15 appearances, which encouraged Villarreal to take the gamble on returning Soldado back to his native Spain. Now, the 31-year-old must repay their faith.
Escriba has been missing a difference-maker, a player able to take Villarreal’s current league-high nine draws and translate a few of them into victories. The Yellow Submarine are suffering from an increased level of competition in LaLiga this term, with Real Sociedad able to open a five-point gap in fifth-place during their slump in form. Sansone has impressed at times, but he cannot do it all alone.
Eibar and Athletic Bilbao sit just a point off the Yellow Submarine in seventh and eighth, leaving Villarreal season at a defining moment.
One win in their last six LaLiga fixtures has gifted the teams around Villarreal the chance to swallow them into their Europe-chasing pack, but the different between success and failure is not a chasm. Only their periscope can protrude out of the depth to keep an eye on the race for fourth place.
Escriba has his team playing good football in their comfortable long-term 4-4-2 system, which promises direct runners from the flanks and neat triangles in central midfield. They are pragmatic, measured and keen to break at pace.
While Sansone can offer his speed to run in behind or stretch the opposition defence, Soldado would compliment the Italian nicely. The Spaniard is instinctual and spatially aware, a goalscorer who has the technical ability to link up neatly in and around the box, rather than do everything himself.
Villarreal have been looking for a striker to remedy their current situation, with the question marks over Pato’s departure emphasising the problem area even further last month.
They just might have had the solution to their issue sitting in the stands at La Ceramica all along.