Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini believes his men can make history and keep Spanish giants Barcelona out of the top two places in La Liga.
“After 33 games we are in second place and that’s got to be our objective because it would beat all our previous records,” said Pellegrini, in the wake of his team’s 2-0 win over Valladolid on Sunday.
“We’ve got just five games to play and the advantage is ours.”
They are now one point in front of Barcelona, who were held to a 0-0 draw by local rivals Espanyol on Saturday, in the race for the all-important second place which will see them go straight into next season’s Champions League group stage.
Villarreal were third three seasons ago, their previous best finish, but their progress is still remarkable for a team that only made its debut in the Spanish first division a decade ago.
Adding to the fairytale – although they memorably made it to the Champions league semi-finals two seasons ago – Villarreal hail from a town of just 49,000 people, 60 kilometres north of their giant neighbours Valencia.
Nevertheless, despite their current dizzy heights, Villarreal’s players are not getting too carried away.
“No-one is demanding anything of us, even now. We may be looking at second but the president, fans and the players are not getting wound up about it. A Champions League place is our only goal,” said French playmaker Robert Pires.
“The fact that we can enjoy ourselves and play without pressure is really important. We’ve made progress below the water-line without anyone noticing and now we’ve surfaced, taking everyone by surprise.
“That’s why everyone calls us the ‘Yellow Submarine’,” joked Pires, reflecting on the club’s nickname which is derived from Villarreal’s striking all-yellow kit.
Villarreal’s rise this season has been helped by the return of Pires and Turkish international striker Nihat Kahveci, who both missed almost all of last season due to knee injuries.
Pires picked up his injury after his move from Arsenal and only played nine games at the end of the season while Kahveci managed just 11 games after getting injured in November 2006.
Kahveci showed how vital he is to Villarreal by getting his 15th goal of the season on Sunday.
He opened the scoring against Valladolid after 15 minutes with Santi Cazorla getting their second just after half time.
Despite Villarreal’s impressive form, Pellegrini conceded on Sunday that overtaking runaway league leaders Real Madrid, and snatching La Liga from under their noses, was almost out of the question.
“Of course, at the start of the season you always have the aim of being champions but over time you have to have to adapt to the reality of the results,” said the Chilean.
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