Villarreal travel to the southern part of the Valencian Community--Alicante--to face a Hércules club that's been struggling to escape the relegation zone all season. They are currently three points from safety, but after floundering pretty much all of 2012, have been playing well at home of late, with wins against Racing, Lugo and Alcorcon.
Our opponents: Hércules has been a team that's been easy to dislike in recent years, beginning with their questionable promotion in 2009-10. Their chairman supposedly was recorded making phone calls offering bribes to ensure the club's promotion, but, Spain being Spain, nothing happened.
Then in 2010-11 Hercules managed to defeat Barcelona at the Camp Nou to begin the season, but the financial situation at the club deteriorated to the point that players such as Ricky Drenthe left, frustrated at the lack of payments, poor training conditions, and so on. The 2011-12 edition made it to the playoffs but went out to Alcorcon in the first round on away goals.
This season's team revolves around Javier Portillo, who has scored 12 of the team's 26 goals. They have added Javito, a 29 year-old striker who has played mostly in Greece and Turkey, to partner Portillo. Otherwise, Edu Bedia, ex-Santander and ex-Spanish youth international, is the main player to watch; he has scored in their last two matches.
Defense has been a problem for Hercules, and Noé Pamarot and David Cortes both joined the club in January from Granada to help them out. So far they've succeeded, keeping three clean sheets in five matches.
Villarreal: The squad hasn't been announced yet, but we confidently expect Javier Aquino to be included. We also know Olof Mellberg and Hernán Pérez are both out injured, and Ike Uche didn't make it back from South Africa in time to train so might be missing as well.
Good news though is Chechu Dorado appears fit after missing a practice earlier in the week. Expect him to partner Musacchio, therefore, with Oriol and Mario making up the rest of the back four in front of Juan Carlos. I'm going to expect a start for Farinós along with Bruno, Cani and a rested Manu Trigueros in midfield, with our short-tall combo of Jony Pereira and Jeremy Perbet. But expect Aquino to get significant time off the bench.
Submarine connection: Goes both ways, with Farinós having spent five years in Alicante, then a year with Levante before joining us. Meanwhile, ex-Villarreal B player Pere Sastre is on the books for Hercules, but has been loaned to Atletico Madrid's second team, so we won't see him.
Recent results: Last year Hercules defeated Villarreal B 1-0 in Vila-real with a last-minute goal from Urko Vera (as I recall, the last kick of the game), but the mini submarine exacted some revenge in Alicante, winning 2-0 with goals from Jaume Costa and Lucas Porcar.
But for memories, let's look back to October 18, 2010 at the Rico Perez, when 20,000+ showed up to watch. A win would have taken the Submarine to the top of the Primera table for the first time ever, but it was not to be. Two first-half goals from Drenthe and Trezeguet, sandwiched around one from Juan Capdevila, gave the home team a lead, but Trezeguet was sent off just before the half ended.
In the second half, Borja Valero evened things up, but was himself sent off for a second yellow, and was joined by Musacchio shortly after. Yes, the referee was Jellyhead (Cesar Muniz), and he handed out three reds and eleven yellows on the day. The 2-2 draw was one of the more memorable matches of the season!
Prediction: Hercules is improving, but so are we. I am going for a 2-0 away win. Make it happen, boys!