Over the coming weeks, we will be taking a look at each positional group, assessing where Villarreal need to improve this summer.
Here, we review the goalkeeper position, and as you’ll already have guessed, we are mostly going to talk about Geronimo Rulli.
Sergio Asenjo (departing)
Iker Alvarez (Youth team)
Filip Jorgensen (Youth team)
There’s not a lot to do here on non-Gero keepers, Iker was pretty much just filling a seat on the bench as the season wound down, and Asenjo only played six La Liga matches, letting in 9 goals and not giving us much reason to second guess Rulli playing over him.
Rulli himself was a matter of contention for much of this season. At one point near the beginning of November, he was leading all of La Liga in mistakes leading to opposing shots while also leading all goalkeepers in short pass attempts.
Emery wanted him to constantly build short from the back and it was not working. By the end of the season, Rulli had slipped to 6th in short pass attempts per 90 and with the tactical shift his errors leading to opponents shots ceased entirely.
In what I consider to be classic Rulli fashion, fixing one problem in some ways led to a new one.
When we were playing out from the back much more, Rulli’s shot stopping numbers were actually significantly better than what they looked like by the end of the season.
I actually think this came from the fact that often when Rulli made a bad mistake in the back he cleaned it up with a big save, thus helping his shot stopping metrics.
Nevertheless, of the keepers who played at least half of their La Liga matches this season, Rulli had the 8th best shot stopping numbers according to post shot expected goals.
Rulli also had more saves in the Champions League this season than none other than Thibaut Courtois, and his shot stopping numbers were better there than they were in La Liga.
Only Real Madrid faced more shots than we did in the entire competition, with our semi-final opponent Liverpool facing exactly half as many as us.
Rulli eventually succumbed to this pressure in the second half of the semi final, and that, along with the subsequent mistakes against Real Sociedad, have really set the tone for everyone in the discussion about his future (me included) as far as fans are concerned .
Needs at the position
A goalkeeper will have to be brought in this summer regardless to replace Asenjo. The question is, do we seek someone who is going to compete with Rulli for the starting job?
The difficulty here is that Rulli truly does a lot of things well. Any player, and certainly any goalkeeper, who gets tested over and over again is going to break down at some point and unfortunately for Rulli he broke down in the second half of the biggest match of the season.
His confidence clearly hadn’t recovered by the time we faced Real Sociedad in a crucial league match, and dictated a lot of how our season turned out. At the same time, Villarreal got a better La Liga goalkeeping performance from Rulli this year than Atletico Madrid got from Jan Oblak.
We had a better Champions League goalkeeping performance from him, over the course of the entire competition, than Bayern Munich got from Manuel Neuer.
His momentary lapses are extremely frustrating and he punches the ball too often, but with Villarreal only offering Conference League football next season, and other parts of the roster potentially in flux, who exactly is Villarreal going to bring in that will be a clear upgrade on Rulli?
I think he’s probably good enough for us to win the UECL with him next season, but I do not think he’s good enough to get us into the top four.
Unless we unearth someone who previously hasn’t shown an elite level, I think we are more or less in a situation where we are going to find it very hard to improve the goalkeeper position for next season, in which case we should prepare ourselves for another year of Gero the Europa League Hero.