This is it. If we have to have any chance of playing UEFA Champions League football next season, we have to win against Athletic on Monday. A win tomorrow merely keeps the door open for one more week. To secure 4th we to follow up a win tomorrow along with a string of wins in the remaining fixtures and hope for a little help from others along the line.
The two teams come into this match with contrasting series of results. Villarreal have been poor in the past month or so owing to injuries and some poor play on the field. Meanwhile Athletic come into the match on the back of some strong performances in the last month.
Tactics and Personnel
With 7 points separating the two teams, Athletic wont be unhappy with a draw at El Madrigal which keeps the Yellow Submarine 7 points behind them. I wont be surprised if Athletic starts with a lineup that is geared for a "safety first" approach.
Ex-Manager of Villarreal and current boss of Athletic will have his men ready to go. 4-3-3 is the standard tactical formation. Apart from Ibai Gomeze(to an extent), Athletic dont miss anyone who has been key to their success this season.
The midfield trio of Mikel Rico, Ander Iturraspe and Ander Herrera will try to control the midfield especially Iturraspe sitting in front of the two central defenders Carlos Gurpegui and Aymeric Laporte allowing the fullbacks Andoni Iraola and Balenziaga go forward when in possession. Upfront Aritz Aduriz will be flanked by Markel Susaeta and Iker Muñain.
Villarreal will likely play in their usual 4-4-2 with Bruno and Pina/Trigueros in the double-pivot and Uche + Gio upfront. Cani might enter the starting lineup after missing 3 months due to injury but more likely theat he starts on the bench. Oliver Torres looks set to start on one of the left wing with Javier Aquino on the right. Assuming Musacchio is fit enough, he will start alongside Gabriel Paulista. Marcelino will have a few interesting game time decisions to make for left fullback and the 2nd forward if Gio cant go 90 minutes.
Alternatively, he could start with a 4-2-3-1 with Uche as the lone forward in front of Oliver, Aquino and Gio/Trigueros. A 4-2-3-1 will also make it easier to account for the extra man in the midfield that Athletic has.
Bruno has his task cut-out with either Rico/Ander or the wingers when they cut inwards (who have a tendency to do that). We need to avoid giving away setpieces as Aduriz is very strong in the air and they have some good freekick takers as well as the late runs by Ander and Rico.
The keys to success tomorrow will be to play the game at our pace and not committing many errors. I dont expect this to be a very high scoring match. Whoever scores first will most likely not lose.
One of our problems at home has been to give up an early goal and then chase the game rest of the way. Our team and playing sytle is not particularly designed to chase matches. It is not a terrible thing if we get to halftime 0-0.
I can go on and on about Xs and Os but there is more to this match than tactics.
A lot has been said about the ambition and goals of the team after the loss to Granada. Expectations are funny things. We started with very few, but the way the teams started spoiled us and let us build up the expectations. Survival became "Easy survival" and "outside shot at Europa League" became "a Champions League spot ". And these expectations can wear you down more than the opponents.
I would love us to finish 4th (theoretical maximum we can achieve) but more than that I would like our guys to go play with pride and showcase our football and our team and enjoy themselves. For the first time in since Marcelino took over we arent playing for survival (or promotion to top division). Our home fans have been starved of a good win since the 4-1 thrashing of Valencia back in October. If our team does well enough that the fans (who make the enormous effort of being there and supporting the team till 00:00 AM of Tuesday) can go home content and with their heads held high, I wont worry much about the result.
Endavant Villarreal! Let's play some good football!
Squads & Likely Lineups
Asenjo; Mario-Musacchio-Paulista-Jokic; Pina-Bruno; Aquino-Trigueros-Oliver; Uche
Iraizoz; Iraola-Gurpegui-Laporte-Balenziaga; Rico-Iturraspe-Ander; Susaeta-Aduriz-Muñain
Óliver Torres, Aquino, Tomás Pina, Giovani, Uche, Perbet y Jonathan Pereira.
Iraizoz, Toquero, Laporte, Erik Morán, San José, Beñat, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Iago Herrerín, Susaeta, Iraola,
Mikel Rico, Gurpegi, Muniain, Aduriz, Ander Herrera, Balenziaga, Guillermo.