In the cup ida, 0-0 at Anoeta. In the league, 5-1 at El Madrigal. Act 3 to determine Racing Santander’s opponent in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Expect closer to Act 1 on Thursday evening in Vila-real between La Liga’s Europa League sides at the halfway point of the 2013-14 campaign. But this time, it’s win or bow out (yet again) for the hosts.
History. Manager Marcelino García Toral has lent a new belief to this Villarreal side. Despite the legion of past failures in the cup—including a pathetic home defeat to Ponferradina last season in one of the few Segunda matches aired in the U.S.—there are reasons for hope. And a scoring draw against La Real to go out would be the least ignominious exit in years for the Yellow Submarine. But we digress.
La Real XI. Injuries, injuries for the visitors. Markel Bergara, Gorka Elustondo, and most importantly Antoine Griezmann are unlikely to play for La Real, with Rubén Pardo also a doubt. So expect a trivote to congest the midfield and try and neutralize Villarreal’s wing play that was rampant on Monday evening. Xabi Prieto is just returning from a knock, but with the other absences, his playmaking abilities may be required. Carlos Vela will be the centerpiece of the visitors’ attack, and Swiss international Haris Seferovic will likely start up front.
Villarreal XI. Choices, choices for the hosts. Who do you start up front, Marcelino? Ikechukwu Uche, probably not in the cup, despite five(!) goals in two matches. Giovani dos Santos, maybe, after his best game in yellow and with special motivation against a rival Mexican international. Then there’s one spot for Jérémy Perbet, with a double in his last outing and the tie-winning goal against Elche. Or Jony Pereira, a real danger-man at Anoeta despite not finding the scoresheet.
My expected Villarreal XI: J. Carlos; Pantic, Gabriel, Musacchio, Jokic; Pina, Bruno; Aquino, Moi; Gio, Perbet.
My expected Villarreal bench: Asenjo; Dorado, Mario; Manu, Nahuel; Jony, Uche.
Prediction. 2-1 to the hosts. Let the good times roll in Vila-real. But it won’t be easy.
The match begins at 2 pm Eastern Time and airs on BeIN Sports en Español. This will be a hard-nosed encounter. Don’t miss it.