Our opponents: Villarreal head down to sunny Granada to take on
Udinese B Watford C Granada CF at the marvelous Nuevo Cármenes stadium--where Villarreal have never won. Not to relive all the tortuous history of Granada football clubs here, but basically Granada CF is the survivor of what were once two or three clubs in town, and their fortunes have prospered after being acquired by Udinese's owners in 2009.
The Pizzi family (who also own Watford in the English Championship now) stocked the club with Udinese players--reserves, youngsters, etc.- to add to some talent already there. It makes following the transfers in and out with this team very interesting, though it must make manager Lucas Alcaraz's job rather difficult.
This year's roster has six Udinese loanees, including defender Allan Nyom, who has been playing for Granada for four years despite being under contract to Udinese; forward Odion Ighalo (same deal), and Dani Benitez, who has achieved the rare feat of never actually taking the pitch for a team who owns him. The hot-tempered midfielder (suspended for three months in 2012 after hitting a referee in the face with a bottle) was propoerty of Mallorca, but played in Elche and Pontevedra; then became part of the Udinese-Granada machine. What a strange world we live in.
At some point, UEFA will probably look at these sorts of partnership agreements and put some rules in place to at least force arms-length permanent deals rather than never-ending loans, but until then, Granada, and their fans, are in a bit of a strange place.
On the one hand, the team doesn't actually bring in or spend a lot of money on players--this summer, their only real sale to an unrelated third party was Mikel Rico (to Athletic Club) for around €3m, and they spent about €4m on Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahimi. Diego Buonanotte was a big-name arrival last year, but hasn't done that much this year. The goals have not been plentiful, but Moroccan international Youssef El-Arabi (8 goals) and ex-Rayo man Piti (5 goals) have provided most of them.
Overall, the Pizzis have been able, so far at least, to stock the club with enough talent that they've been able to survive in the Primera, though not always easily. We all remember how they allowed last-gasp goal by Rayo that consigned us to the Segunda in 2012, Granada already being safe; last year Granada avoided the drop by six points. It's not that they're that good, but others have been more terrible, and they've generally managed to put together a mini-run at some point in the season to stay above the drop.
This season, for example, they defeated Elche and Levante on the road, and Malaga at home, in the space of three weeks to move to a mid-table position in early November. Since then, results have been poor, but they've won the games they've needed to win against clubs below them--in the last three months they have three wins, against Rayo, Valladolid and Betis.
Clubs comparable to us (who attack on the road and have good talent) have generally come away with wins--Celta (1-2), Sevilla (1-2), Real Sociedad (1-3). Villarreal have never won at this ground, although that's a bit misleading since we've only played there once. Who can forget--our loanee Ike Uche scored the only goal of the match in a September 2011 contest. And in May 2011, Granada, then in the Segunda, defeated our B team 3-0 at this ground.
Villarreal: Injuries are the big concern. Can Mateo Musacchio play with his broken toe? Can Gio dos Santos play with his muscle injury? Those are the big two questions, but there are some others--will Cani make the squad this week? Who will play on the left wing? Nahuel? Juan Roman? Óliver? It will be a real mix-and-match job for Marcelino this time.
For what it's worth, here is my predicted lineup:
Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel, Jokic; Pina, Bruno; Moi, Oliver; Uche, Perbet.
Predictions for the match: I would really like to see us put an excellent first half together and blow these guys away. That said, I think we are probably going to have a tougher time than we'd like. El-Arabi is a good striker, and Buonanotte can be good at either creating chances for others, or flopping and trying to win phantom free-kicks at the slightest contact. Fran Rico, Brahimi and Mallorca loanee Pereira give them a decent midfield, so I think it will be a pretty tight match. I'm going to be a pessimist this week and say 1-1, but I hope for more! Endavant Villarreal!!