It's been a pretty successful first season back in La Primera for Villarreal, by all counts, and the Yellow Submarine could put a bow on the package by winning their final match of the 2013-14 campaign. Both Real Sociedad and Villarreal have qualified for the Europa League, but the difference between finishing sixth and seventh comes down to several things: first, the sixth place team only has to win one playoff round in order to qualify for the group stages; second, as a corollary to that, the sixth place club gets three more weeks before their first competitive match of the season. And third, the allocation of television money to multiple clubs from a country that qualify for the group stage factors in the order of finish--the sixth-placed club will get more money than the seventh-placed one.
The opposition: Real Sociedad qualified for the Champions League last term, but had a CL campaign almost as bad as ours in 2011-12. They finished fourth in their group, and many observers (me included) thought that once that distraction was over, they would challenge for fourth again.
There was a bit of a good run around the end of 2013, but the Submarine ended that streak with an emphatic 5-1 win at El Madrigal. And since then, La Real has drifted along, never being really challenged for Europe but never really threatening the top five either.
The San Sebastian club has two guys in double figures in goals: Antoine Griezmann with 16, and Carlos Vela with 15. The Mexican has made waves for continuing to spurn the Mexican national team, even in a World Cup year. Gonzalo Castro, Sergio Canales, and Xabi Prieto form a good attacking midfield, too.
Chilean international keeper Claudio Bravo plays between the sticks, but the defense overall has been good sometimes, not so good others. They've allowed 53 goals, the same as Valencia (and 10 more than us), but that includes five goals from Villarreal, four from Almeria, and three from Rayo. Which might indicate that teams that like to attack can cause them problems?
Villarreal: We'd feel much more confident about our chances if we had a full complement of players--but with Perbet, Oliver, and now Cani all missing for this one.....
Probably the usual back four as in recent weeks then, with Paulista and Musacchio, Jokic and Mario; Bruno and Trigueros in midfield, unless it's Pina for Bruno; Moi and Aquino on the wings, Gio and Uche up front. And Juan Carlos will apparently get another chance to start in goal.
Prediction: I think it will be a wide-open match, Real 1-2 Villarreal.