With talk of money, transfers and ‘Galaticos’ yet again dominating the Spanish press in the summer, few would have predicted that with the season five games old it would be penniless Valencia and Villarreal leading the way in La Primera table.
Whilst Real Madrid and Barcelona loosened the purse strings and splashed the cash, those at the Mestalla and el Madrigal simply did their best to hold onto some of their star players as they scouted around for any potential bargains.
And their frugality appears to have paid off so far. Valencia have managed four victories from their opening five matches, only dropping points against Atletico Madrid, whilst Villarreal were defeated on the opening day by Real Sociedad but have won every match in the league since.
The rise of the Yellow Submarine is particularly remarkable when one considers the danger they appeared to be in after the departure of Manuel Pellegrini in the summer of 2009.
The Chilean had not just built a team at Villarreal, he had built a legacy, and with him gone there were fears that the club might well go into a downward spiral. However, in Ernesto Valverde they found a decent replacement for Pellegrini and now, in Juan Carlos Garrido, they appear to have found a young coach to drive the club forward again.
Whilst Garrido had no top-flight experience before taking on this job he is certainly a Villarreal man through and through, having led the B side with great success for around ten years.
His arrival in the early stages of this year might not have sparked an instant change but now, with one summer behind him, it looks as though he is starting to have an impact at the club. One only has to look at midfielder Santi Cazorla, a player who was well below his best last season but has now earned a call-up to the Spanish national squad, to see the impression that Garrido is having at the club.
The neat passing is certainly reminiscent of the days when Pellegrini was in charge and even though in the summer there were doubts over the futures of Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar they have both done a fine job for the coach so far.
Nilmar in particular has shown that he can indeed cut it at this level, scoring four times in four matches, whilst Rossi seems to have now have his mind on the present rather than on where his future may lie.
The young Italian was on the score-sheet again on Thursday evening as Villarreal picked up their first Europa League win in what looks to be a relatively straightforward group.
As well as the positive reactions from the creative talents in the side there has also been a notable change in the confidence of goalkeeper Diego Lopez, who, two seasons ago was reportedly been chased by the likes of Manchester United, but last year was making mistake after mistake.
With Garrido in charge he seems to be rediscovering his best form and even though the back-line in front of him lost both Diego Godin and Javi Venta during the summer, that too is looking strong.
Of course, the real test for both the coach and the players will come when the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid come to town, but until then Villarreal are on the rise and they certainly don’t look like slowing down under Garrido.