Beating the Drum for Villarreal--several hours prior to yesterday's match, and even in the rain, the young drummers were doing their thing outside the stadium!!
No, much as we'd like to sit around, sip a horchata in the summery sunshine, and listen to Javi Mata's call of the Hernán Pérez goal one more time, there's no rest for the Villarreal USA scribes, nor for that matter for Villarreal's second team, who journey way down the coast to play UD Almeria.
When these two teams met at our Mini Estadi back in November, Joselu scored two goals, the second a penalty in the 89th minute, to give the Mini Submarine a well-deserved 2-1 win. Now we're playing at Almeria's ground, the grandly named Estadio de Los Juegos Mediterraneos. It holds 22,000, but don't expect it to be anywhere near full for this one.
The town: Almeria has a population of about 200,000. The town was founded in the ninth century and was under Moorish rule until 1489, though it was one of the targets of the Second Crusade. Wow. And here in new England we think our towns are old!
The economy is built around tourism and vegetable production, with lots of greenhouses around. I can only assume they are very careful about using water, because this is a dry part of Spain. In fact, Almeria (the province, not the town) provided the 'location' for many 'spaghetti westerns'. There's also a cave with huge gypsum crystals that is famous among geologists, though I don't think anyone is allowed in it these days.
The team: Unlike many Spanish clubs, UD Almeria is quite recent, founded in 1989. In that short time, it progressed all the way from the regional divisions into the Primera, due largely to a certain Unai Emery as coach, and players like Alvaro Negredo and Pablo Piatti. Of course, they departed for richer pastures, Almeria having a very small budget, and so the Andalusians' stay in the top flight lasted only four seasons.
Almeria has been a streaky team this season, to say the least; in fact, when they visited Villarreal in November, they had lost only one of their first 11 Segunda matches. But Joselu's penalty sent them into a tailspin; they went five after that without winning, before reeling off six wins and three draws.
Lately, however, it's been bad news, with three losses and four draws, and coach Lucas Alcaraz paid for it with his job. The new man, Esteban Vigo, took Hercules to the Primera, and Almeria hopes he can do the same.
Almeria score plenty of goals--at least ex-Castellon man José Leonardo Ulloa does, with 24 to his nae so far this season--but he is suspended for this game. Good news for us. Sid Lowe's favorite player, or at least the only player I've ever seen with his name in Amharic on his shirt, Henrik Goitom, will lead their attack instead.
Almeria's problem is pretty simple. Compared to the leading clubs, they ship too many goals. They have 13 wins and 13 draws, and 12 of those were scoring draws. Only the top three teams have scored more, but they have allowed more goals than have any of the six teams ahead of them. Can new coach Vigo engineer an Almeria return to the big time? A win in this game is crucial for their hopes.
Our team: Coach Velásquez has stabilized the Mini Submarine, now a season-high 14th in the table and nine points clear of the relegation spots with ten games remaining. Much of that success has come from a stable lineup, but injuries and suspensions mean he'll have to make some changes this week.
Jaume Costa and Toribio are suspended (Toribio's second yellow against Elche was overturned, but his first card was his tenth of the season, so he sits out one game), and Gerard Bordas, who has scored twice in three games, is injured again. Pedro Iñiguez and Fernando Barrientos both have leg injuries as well.
Here is the squad, and note a new name: Pepe Pelau, a midfielder called up from the C team, as well as center back Diego Jimenez, who has played mostly with the C this year but did see action in one Segunda match for the B squad. Note too Mauricio Alves is included as a midfielder.
Keepers: Diego Mariño and Jorge.
Defenders: Toño, Pere, Lejeune, Kiko, Truyols and Diego Jiménez (dorsal 32).
Midfielders: Lucas Porcar, Pedro Vázquez, Iriome, Mauricio, Llorente, Trigueros, Edu Ramos, Palau (dorsal 34) y Moi Gómez.
Forwards: Joselu y Juanto.
I expect Pere, Lejeune, Kiko and Truyols to start at the back, Trigueros, Llorente, Edu Ramos and Moi Gomez in the midfield, with Porcar operating as a second striker behind Joselu. We'll see.
Allen's prediction: it can all change with an early goal, a sending-off or whatever, but I think a 1-1 draw here looks about right.