Ninety minutes. Two halves. One directive. 37 matches in the making. I am probably not unique in feeling absolutely abused after those 37 matches of pain, suffering, and desolation. And as a result, come Sunday evening, there are exactly two options for Villarreal's future: first, salvation, a fresh start, and waves of relief; second, relegation, destruction, and exponential effects on Villarreal's financial downturn. Either way, there will be tears.
To put it a little more bluntly, Villarreal require a single point to survive the relegation battle. There are 81 potential scenarios between Villarreal, Zaragoza, Rayo Vallecano, and Granada, as to who will take the 18th place in the table, and find themselves in Segunda A. Discussed more below the jump, Villarreal only drop in six of those scenarios, and all six involve Villarreal losing. A draw, a victory, and Villarreal are safe for another year.
Villarreal have been in the Primera since 1998 (save for a single year relegated at the end of the 1990s), and while they have previously survived a relegation, things are dramatically different today. A relegation could be the ruin of the club, considering the financial state of affairs in Spain today, the changing culture of Spanish (and world) football, and the concentration of wealth at the very top of La Liga.
To save the club, Villarreal must pick up this point against Atlético Madrid, a perennial nemesis to Villarreal (occasionally on the pitch, frequently in the transfer market, and ALWAYS when it comes to shortsheeting Villarreal's mattresses on club retreats - damned mattressmakers). The team that are notoriously underachievers have made a name for themselves in the Europa League, now winning it twice in the last three years. Not that Villarreal has a bevy of shiny objects in their trophy case to look down their noses at the mediocre red and whites from Madrid, but it does seem a bit appropriate that they are making a habit of winning the second-place trophy in Europe, them being the second-place club in their own city (clearly we are not in a position to make such quips, but it is hard to resist against Atlético!).
The matches that are relevant to Villarreal include (1) Villarreal - Atlético; (2) Rayo - Granada; (3) Getafe - Zaragoza; and (4) Málaga - Sporting. I am open to correction on this, but I believe their are five clubs that could still theoretically avoid that 17th or 18th position in the drop zone, or could find themselves relegated: Villarreal, Sporting, Rayo, Granada, Zaragoza. Of the five teams, I do not know if anyone could pick the most likely team to drop. Villarreal have been hit or miss throughout. Zaragoza have been on a relative tear lately. Sporting have had a rough go of things, and didn't help themselves by falling to Villarreal a week and a half ago at home, but could still seek out salvation with a win and a lot of dominoes falling their way. Granada are just floating along, hoping to survive. Rayo are falling quickly, but could survive with a loss if Zaragoza can't pull out the away win against Getafe. The six scenarios where Villarreal A find themselves experiencing 2012-2013 in the Segunda:
1 - Getafe and Zaragoza tie, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga defeats Sporting, and Villarreal loses to Atlético Madrid.
2 - Getafe and Zaragoza tie, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga draws against Sporting, and Villarreal falls to Atlético Madrid.
3 - Getafe and Zaragoza tie, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga loses to Sporting, and Villarreal loses to Atlético Madrid.
4 - Zaragoza win at Getafe, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga defeats Sporting, and Villarreal loses to Atlético Madrid.
5 - Zaragoza win at Getafe, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga draws against Sporting and Villarreal loses against Atlético Madrid.
6 - Zaragoza win at Getafe, Rayo beats Granada, Málaga loses to Sporting, and Villarreal loses to Atlético Madrid.
Thanks to futvillarreal.com!
At this point in the season, there is not a lot to say about Villarreal's current run of form, or that of Atlético. Villarreal could have forgotten about this match a long time ago had they picked up a single point from a number of our recent matches. Last week against Valencia, a dropped point in the final minute of extra time. Two weeks ago, against Osasuna, two points dropped after a goal allowed in the final 18 minutes. The week prior, two points dropped against Real Sociedad when we gave up a goal in the 86th. And the match before that? Two points dropped in the 94th minute against Racing Santander. One of those points dropped, or any other single point from any other match this season, and Villarreal would be coasting into Sunday, without concern, and probably playing a B side. We might have even forgotten to write a preview, it would have been so (relatively) unimportant. But here we are, aiming at fifth place Atlético.
What's worse, Atlético has a ton to play for. Sitting on 53 points, a win, along with a Málaga loss, would put the Madrid B-teamers in the Champions League qualifiers for next season. While it would be remarkably pathetic for a team to find the Champions League with only 56 points, I am sure they will take it without a second thought. As would I.
In addition to Atlético's recent domination of Bilbao in the championship of the Europa League, they have been playing well in La Liga. Three wins and two draws in the last five matches (a solid 11 points) have given them this opportunity to take a potshot at the Champions League.
We do not yet have Villarreal's squad, but except for Giuseppe Rossi, I believe that the squad is healthy. Jonathan de Guzman caught his fifth yellow last week, so Villarreal will not have him in the reserves for the match. Everyone else (I believe) is clear with regard to discipline. We will update the preview with the squad once we have it but my projected 4-2-3-1 looks like this:
Sid, Allen and Ravi previewing the game on the pod
If you want to watch the match in the States, your best bet is to find it on RojaDirecta or to watch it on DirecTV (Sidarth, might you be able to confirm the channel that the match will be on?). If you want to hold off until 8pm Eastern, you could catch a premiere of the match on GolTV, but I can promise you I would rather watch a halting, scratchy copy of the match streaming online than have to wait an extra six hours to catch the result!
One point. That's all it takes. Endavant Submarino. #yocreo.