And so with the first half of La Liga's schedule ended, we start the turn for home. First up, Real Sociedad, who defeated Villarreal 1-0 way back in late August. Coming into the season, most pundits considered them the best of the three promoted sides, and the San Sebastián team has lived up to that billing, sitting in a comfortable mid-table position. They've generally played pretty well at home and struggled on the road, though they're coming off a 4-0 drubbing of Getafe in the Madrid 'burbs, only their third road win of the season.
The txuri-urdin have some strength in attack, especially with veterans Xabi Prieto, Tamudo, and former Villarreal frontman Joseba Llorente, and French teenager Antoine Griezmann has scored four goals this campaign as well. Rivas and Aranburu assist Prieto in midfield and the back four in front of Chilean 'keeper Claudio Bravo has generally been competent, though not outstanding.
It didn't happen when the teams first met, but in general, Real have played well in the first half but had problems holding on in the second. Interestingly, if you construct a La Liga table based solely on the first halves of matches, Barcelona and Villarreal would be tied for first, on 41 points. Third would be Real Sociedad on 36; the 11 points they've effectively lost in the second half to bring them to their actual total of 25 are by far the highest in the league.
Much has happened with Villarreal CF since that warm August day in the Anoeta. In that game, Garrido chose to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Nilmar on the bench. Villarreal were the better side in the first half, were unlucky not to get a penalty when Prieto challenged Capdevila in the box, but couldn't translate possession into goals. Ultimately Real gained in confidence--the involvement of Joseba Llorente to set up Prieto's goal on the hour mark seemed almost inevitable--and they were able to hold on for a 1-0 win.
Given Villarreal's fine home form in El Madrigal, and the goalscoring prowess of the team of late, I expect this game will be different. Certainly the conditions will be, as it's going to be a cold evening in Vila-real. The yellow side will welcome Carlos Marchena into the side after a month-long layoff, but late news is he will not play as his hamstring was sore after the last training session. Other players who were in the starting lineup in August, Ángel and Senna, are unfortunately not available, nor is Nilmar. Santi Cazorla will make the squad, but I don't expect Garrido to start him.
Garrido's squad is:
Keepers: Xavi Oliva & Diego López.
Defenders: Mario, Gonzalo, Marchena, Musacchio, Catalá, Capdevila, Cicinho & Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Bruno, Matilla, Santi Cazorla & Cani.
Strikers: Rossi, Marco Ruben & Altidore.
Prediction: We've been leaking goals of late, but scoring well too. I have a feeling Joseba Llorente may score on his return to his old stomping grounds, but with Ruben, Rossi, et al. all on song, I believe in the end we'll post a 3-2 victory. Endavant!!
And by the way, don't forget the B team hosts Segunda leader, bankrupt Real Betis, on Saturday at 18:00 (noon EST). Nicki Bille misses the match through suspension, but Hernan Perez and Tiago Dutra return after a bout with the flu. It's odd given that Betis are leading the league and this should be an attractive matchup, but I have seen no evidence that the match will be televised anywhere. Radio Nou will provide commentary (interspersed with the Sevilla-Levante match doubtless).