Can Villarreal clear the OB hurdle? Everything to play for in Tuesday's Champions League Playoff!
The procession has reached the cemetery. The players can hear the funeral rites being read. And now, Villarreal, who dug their own grave with a momentary lapse - a nightmarish giveaway by Zapata for a 1-0 lead for the Danes - have to decide whether they want to lie in it or come back to life.
Too much deathly imagery? Perhaps. But there is something in the air that suggests I haven't laid it on thick enough. Don't get me wrong. Villarreal have all the ability necessary to turn the tables on OB, and are in the perfect location to do so. Villarreal are unstoppable at home in Europe of late, having won 8 straight. And, thanks to a few (dozen) clubs in Spain not bothering to pay their players, the club took a nice break over the weekend to rest up. As a result, Villarreal should be very fresh - a trade off, though, for match fitness. OB are match ready, having now played 9 competitive matches on the season. Villarreal have managed only the solitary loss.
OB is surely at the height of its confidence, though, and will be coming to the match expecting to pull the Miracle in Comunitat Valenciana, a miracle that would be procured with a draw. The club managed a 3-1 defeat of Lyngby in Odense over the weekend while Villarreal were taking a nice siesta, and will be intent on using every bit of that momentum into maintaining their advantage and progressing. Villarreal gave up the goal late on Wednesday, but must be prepared for Odense early as well - the club scored their three goals over the weekend within the first 30 minutes of the match. Odense's big question for the match will be the fitness of first-choice striker Peter Utaka, who still has not fully recovered from his injury against AaB a week and a half ago.
Villarreal's squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López and César.
Defenders: Mario, Cristián Zapata, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Mateo Musacchio, Jose Manuel Catalá, Joan Oriol and Carlos Marchena.
Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Bruno Soriano, Borja Valero, Cani, Camuñas and Gerard.
Forwards: Marco Ruben, Nilmar and Rossi.
That list includes a couple of changes from last week's traveling squad. Wakaso Mubarak, Marcos Gullón, and Hernán Pérez were all dropped from the squad, and Gerard Bordas was added to the midfield ranks. Notably, none of the three dropped players appear to be as a result of injury - Ángel López, recovering from his knee injury, continues to be the only player that is being kept out because of injury.
For the match in Denmark, Juan Carlos Garrido went with a predictable (not by me, obviously) lineup: Diego López; Mario - Musacchio - Zapata - Oriol; Cani - Bruno - Marchena - Borja; Rossi - Nilmar. I have to think that Garrido will be ready to make a couple of changes this week. Oriol played well on Wednesday, but was out a bit this week for personal reasons, and it is not unthinkable that Catalá could take his place. I thought Gonzalo would start last week, but I feel nearly certain he will get the call this week, in place of Musacchio. Zapata should be given another chance - we all know he is probably our best bet our there.
In midfield, expect Senna to take Marchena's place. The club will be looking to Senna to provide that leadership, and perhaps help set up an early goal to take back the momentum. Also, Cani's poor showing could see Camuñas get the start in his place. Rossi and Nilmar paired up well at the top, and I would be surprised to see either one of them sitting to start the match.
No predictions from me this week, after I jinxed the whole thing by my ridiculous 1-3 claim last week. But it is by no means a hopeless case. I have every bit of faith that Villarreal can do this, but an early goal is absolutely vital. The last thing the club wants is to find itself in the 65th minute still tied at 0-0. And equally important, the club cannot give up an away goal here. Villarreal caused all sorts of heartburn for itself (and me) by not getting an away goal in Denmark. Now, the defense has to be spotless. A single mistake could be the kiss of death. Don't let it be, guys! ENDAVANT!