Result: Club Brugge 1-2 Villarreal

UPDATE- Highlights from rutube:

It's been a roller-coaster ride for Garrido's boys in the Europa League group phase, but they have qualified for the round of 32 even before the last match of the round has been played. So does this game, against Club Brugge in Belgium, matter? Well, yes. For a start, a Villarreal win would ensure a first-place finish in the group, which would mean they would not face other group winners, or the four best teams kicked into the Europa competition by finishing third in their Champions League groups (Spartak Moscow, Braga, Twente, Ajax). Furthermore, our away form desperately needs righting if we are to progress in this competition. A win against Bruges would give the club some confidence as they prepare for the knockout stages. Finally, this match gives some of our fringe players a chance to get some minutes and impress Garrido.

As for Club Brugge, they are playing for pride, and not much else. They are condemned to fourth place in the group no matter what happens, and haven't won a match yet, with three draws and two losses. Their Belgian League form hasn't been great either: they are currently sixth, 12 points behind leaders Genk. It's something of a down year for a team which has played more matches in the UEFA Cup/Europa League than any other, and remains the only Belgian side to appear in a European Cup or Champions League final. In the Belgian league they are averaging two goals per game, with many of them coming from midfielders Vargas, Perisic, and Odjidja-Ofoe, but in the Europa League it's a different matter. Bruges have but three goals (by three different players) in five matches, none from their midfielders. They do play until the final whistle though: they scored just before halftime against Villarreal, and their tying goal against PAOK, which helped put Villarreal through to the next round, came in the last minute of regular time.

The first match between these teams was an ill-tempered affair at El Madrigal: Vargas was sent off early on for an elbow on Cani, and soon after Cani was scythed down on the edge of the penalty area in evident retaliation. Goals by Rossi and Gonzalo sandwiched around a goal at the end of the first-half by Donk resulted in a 2-1 win that could have been much less close had Villarreal finished their chances.

Bruges coach Koster is under fire, and is likely to rest some of their regulars ahead of important league matches against Anderlecht and Gent. Garrido's doghouse seems to have grown to include Montero as well as Matilla--both are left out of the team called up for this match:

Goalkeepers: Diego López, Xavi Oliva and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Mario, Ángel, Gonzalo, Kiko, Catalá, Musacchio and Capdevila.
Midfielders: Santi Cazorla, Borja Valero, Bruno, Marcos Senna and Cani.
Strikers: Rossi, Marco Ruben, Altidore and Nilmar.

I think all of us would like to see Jozy Altidore start this match and do well, perhaps with Rossi to start and Ruben later. Villarreal's midfield will be basically our first choice midfield (probably Senna drops to the bench); Garrido held a video session and closed-door meeting after the Getafe debacle, so they should come out with something to prove. The injuries to Oriol and Marchena leave us thin in defense; I expect Musacchio and Gonzalo will play in the middle, Capdevila and Catala on the wings, though Mario could make an appearance.

This match promises to be an anticlimactic end to the group stage, and with a novice referee (at the international level) to boot. Two trends point to a Villarreal win: Bruges have alternated losses with draws, and drew their last match; and last year Villarreal lost their first two away matches in the group phase, then won the third. I'll predict both trends will continue with a 2-0 Villarreal victory, and Jozy to get one of the goals at least.

For anyone interested, the first tiebreaker if Dinamo and Villarreal are level on points is head-to-head results, and Villarreal wins this by virtue of a 3-0 home win compared to Dinamo's 2-0 home win; Villarreal and PAOK each won against the other 1-0 at home, so the tiebreaks could in theory continue all the way through to UEFA's rating coefficient--Villarreal's is higher.

Therefore, Villarreal finishes second only if they draw and PAOK wins, they lose and either PAOK or Dinamo win, Villarreal loses by more than one goal and the other match is drawn, or Villarreal loses by one goal, the other match is drawn, and PAOK scores at least three more goals against Dinamo than Villarreal scores against Bruges. Everyone got that? ENDAVANT!

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