Villarreal face Sevilla in an important match on Sunday, searching for one point at least to guarantee European qualification next year. The Yellow Submarine wouldn't mind if Sevilla coach Unai Emery and his charges are a little tired and bleary-eyed after celebrating their last minute M'Bia goal secured their passage to this year's Europa League final.
Going into this season, Los Nervionenses were a trendy pick for Champions League qualification--at least, they were my pick, seeing as they made some nice moves in the summer. Such additions as Vitolo from Las Palmas, Jairo Samperio from Racing, Carlos Bacca from Club Brugge and Kevin Gameiro from PSG have turned out well, but perhaps it just took a bit too long for them to get used to each other--four opening matches without a win didn't help.
After a slow start in calendar 2014 (six league matches without a win), they have finally hit their stride, winning 9 matches and losing only 2 in their last 11, and defeating Maribor, Betis, Porto and Valencia en route to the Europa League final.
And yet, Villarreal should take comfort from their most recent results. Sevilla lost 3-1 at Athletic Club in a match where they needed to win to have any chance of Champions League qualification; then, defending a 2-0 lead at the Mestalla in the Europa League semifinal, they went 2-0 down within 25 minutes and only a stoppage-time goal enabled them to progress on away goals after a 3-1 loss.
Sevilla have little to play for except pride in this one, really. Athletic Club's victory against Rayo Friday ensured they will finish fourth; Sevilla can only finish fifth or sixth, the difference being the fifth placed team in the league goes directly into the Europa League group stages while the sixth-placed squad has to make it through a playoff round.
Villarreal: After the disappointment of blowing a 2-0 lead against Barcelona with less than half an hour to play, I suspect Marcelino and his charges will be delighted to get on the pitch again with a chance to expunge the memory of that loss.
The Submarine's away form has suffered of late, with poor displays at Malaga, Valladolid and Granada. Probably our last excellent performance on the road was at Espanyol, a ground where we've often played well, and we've generally played pretty well in Sevilla too.
Unless Valencia go to Real Madrid and win in the match after ours, we will qualify for the Europa League regardless of our result. And, if we get at least a draw, what Valencia does won't matter. A win might enable us to get close to Real Sociedad, five points ahead of us, though they have a very winnable match at home against Granada. Still, it's a reason why we might be a little more motivated for this one than the home side.
As has been the case frequently in the second half of the season, injuries are a problem for the Submarine. Jeremy Perbet's ankle injury rules him out; Tomas Pina and Edu Ramos are injured as well, and Manu Trigueros is suspended. Cani, Uche and Mario Gaspar are a card away from sanction.
I expect if we stay with the usual doble pivote, Oliver Torres may end up partnering Bruno, with Aquino and Cani on the wings. It's possible we could push Cani forward and play him behind the strikers (Gio and Uche, I expect) while Oliver and Aquino play on the wings, or even Moi, who has seen little action of late. We'll have to see.
Prediction: I'm thinking 1-1 or even 2-2. But since recording the podcast I've come around to the draw idea.