Elche vs. Villarreal: Comunitat mini-derbi

Old hand Musacchio at the ready? - Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Elche-Villarreal closes out jornada 12 in La Liga. This local rivalry has never played out in the Primera -- time for a new fixture!

Valencia is the leading club in the Comunitat Valenciana, even if that spell of dominance may be waning. So it is natural that Villarreal-Valencia gets top billing as the regional derbi. Then comes Valencia-Levante as the city rivalry. Where does Elche-Villarreal rank?

Well, tonight’s clash at the Estadio Martínez Valero in Elx will be a first in the Primera División. Elche were runaway winners of the Segunda last year but were expected to struggle in their long-awaited return to the top flight. With a number of loanees, they sit above the relegation zone but will be looking to make home-field advantage count. There are a few danger-men in Carles Gil and former Villarreal target Manu del Moral, but set pieces and tight defending are the franjiverdes’ trademarks.

Villarreal should remain in fourth place no matter this round’s result, but Atlético Madrid comes to town next week. So three points against our long-distance neighbors would be nice – even one would be an improvement on last season’s results in the Segunda. The Yellow Submarine lost a dour 1-0 affair in Elx, perhaps most noted for Pablo Íñiguez as a central midfielder, and I saw the 2-3 defeat at El Madrigal.

Turnovers and quick counterattacks were the problems on that day, and this year’s Villarreal remains susceptible to this style of play. But this year’s Villarreal is also likely to score away from home, making a result much more probable.

It’s our third match in eight days, so Marcelino García Toral will continue to rotate his squad. With an injury to Chechu Dorado and Íñiguez’s likely suspension next weekend, it may be the time for Gabriel Paulista’s debut in yellow. Communication is always the key at center half, so let’s see how a new goalie, brand-new central defender, and “grizzled veteran” Mateo Musacchio (all of 23 years old) get along.

Villarreal expected XI: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel, J. Costa; Pina, Bruno; Aquino, Cani; Uche, Gio.

3 points would be nice today. Too bad the match is at 10 pm on Monday evening, else we would have seen quite an away following. Endavant Villarreal!
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