The Yellow Submarine welcomes Malaga to Vila-real on Friday. Much has happened since these two teams last met here in April 2012, when a late Hernán Pérez goal gave us a 2-1 victory. Villarreal has been down to the Second Division and back again, while Malaga has had a roller-coaster ride as well.
The 2011-12 Malaga featured players such as Santi Cazorla, bought in a big spending spree by the club’s owner, and the coaching of Manuel Pellegrini. This group was good enough to qualify for Europe, and the next year even with some stars gone, Pellegrini took them to the Champions League quarterfinals, where they were cruelly and controversially eliminated by Borussia Dortmund.
Pellegrini is now in Manchester, Santi is in London, and many of the other name signings--Toulalan, Monreal, Saviola, Rondon, etc., have left as well. And for good measure, UEFA has banned Malaga from European competitions for financial irregularities. Their sixth-place finish last year in 2012-13 was thus all for naught, and this year's team doesn't look like challenging for Europe at all.
Malaga still have some good players--Santa Cruz, Eliseu, Camacho, etc., but their playing style has become distinctly unlovely, and the goals haven’t been flowing either. The boquerones have three wins, all at home, all against teams in the relegation zone (Betis, Almeria, Rayo). A recent 5-0 home loss to Celta, however, has put manager Bernd Schuster’s job in danger.
Most recently, Malaga lost 2-1 to Athletic Club at home, with Portillo sent off for two yellow cards. He misses this match due to suspension. Camacho has a sprained ankle and may not be available, and four other players, Santa Cruz and el Hamdaoui among them, didn’t take part in regular training on Wednesday.
Malaga has pace down the wing, especially with Eliseu, but creating good chances from open play has been a problem. Malaga’s best opportunities might well come from free kicks, corners, or long shots. Villarreal should have most of the possession, and if we can get ahead in the first 20 minutes, this might well go like the Granada match, with the visitors offering very little. Malaga does tend to foul a lot, too, so we might be able to use that to our advantage, as they are not great a defending set pieces.
Villarreal: The Submarine was able to defeat Levante and draw against Atleti even with Gio out, and he is expected to return for this one. Uche’s recent form has been impressive, Cani and Bruno have continued to excel, and Gabriel Paulista has made the most of his opportunity at center back with Dorado out.
He is still missing for this one, and so too is Farinos. Other than that, everyone seems OK.
Recent form (last game first):
Villarreal W D W L W
Malaga L L W D L
I’m going with Jokic in order to control Eliseu, and Pina so Bruno can devote himself to more attacking than he would have to do with Manu partnering him. I’ m expecting if we can get a comfortable lead Bruno will come off so he won’t be in yellow card danger, as Barcelona looms. Hernán or Aquino? I go for the Mexican, but expect to see both on the day.
Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Paulista, Jokic; Cani, Bruno, Pina, Aquino; Gio, Uche.
Jaume Costa 5 (served one-game suspension last week)
Tomas Pina 3
Prediction: I noted on the podcast it might be close but we should take it 2-1. I'm thinking right now maybe 2-0 is more like it. Sidarth went for 3-1.