Villarreal play their most important game of the season (so far) Sunday morning in El Madrigal against an Elche squad that has looked surprisingly fallible of late. The illicitanos were on fire during the first half of the campaign, winning nine of their first eleven matches and picking up 49 points in their first 21 games, only allowing 11 goals in that span.
Their second half of the campaign, though, has been less impressive. Whether it's just that they have been coasting for awhile, or have simply come back to their true level, I don't know, but in their last 15 games they have 24 points, and only 9 in their last 8 matches. Their defense has remained strong, but the attack has dried up. With a nine-point lead over the third placed team, they have to feel they're still going to win automatic promotion, but it's no longer an absolute certainty.
The match between these two clubs in early December was perhaps the point at which then-coach Velasquez lost many of the Villarreal supporters, because he included six defenders (two playing in midfield) in his starting XI, and our "attack" consisted of Walter Pandiani, with modest support from Manu and Moi. We were clearly playing for a 0-0 draw, and we didn't get that, a shot from Elche's leading scorer Ferran Corominas deflecting off two Villarreal players and into the net in the 71st minute.
For a team that was ruling the roost, Elche were amazingly unimpressive in that match, and their team won't be much changed from that day. But Villarreal will certainly take a different approach, and hopefully Perbet and Gerard will start together and enjoy some goal-scoring opportunities.
Marcelino has gone for the strongest team he can put out there, at least in the 18. Gone is Juanma; Jaume Costa and Aquino return.
Keepers: Juan Carlos, Diego Mariño.
Defenders: Musacchio, Mario, Mellberg, Joan Oriol, Jaume Costa, Pablo Íñiguez.
Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Bruno, Cani, Trigueros, Aquino, Canteros y Moi Gómez.
Elche's defense should be tested early if Villarreal can return to its more free-flowing play of late March and early April before Aquino and Jony went down, and as noted above our visitors have not been scoring much of late. So the opportunity is there--we MUST seize it. Endavant Villarreal!