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Match Preview: Athletic Bilbao - Villarreal

At least somebody has offered an apology for Villarreal's recent form. Needless to say, Villarreal are in a terrible straight at the moment. After a 6-3 victory at home against Aalborg last Wednesday, Villarreal gave up two points against an undermanned and outplayed Atletico side, and then accepted years worth of embarassment, losing 5-0 against Poli Ejido, losing any real chance at advancing in the Copa del Rey.

Perhaps I am being a bit harsh. It was the first defeat in competitive play in seven months. But Villarreal under Pellegrini seem to repeatedly fall into slumps. Last year, between late November and early January, Villarreal went 4-4-2 in all competitions, with the two of the wins coming over lowly Las Palmas and middling Elfsborg. In 2006/2007, Villarreal started horribly, going 0-3-2 in their first five with an early exit from the UEFA Cup. Later that same year, during December, the club went an astonishing 0-4-1, including a 1-4 loss at home to Osasuna. The point is, Villarreal tend to fall into holes occasionally, and it seems to tak four to five matches at a minimum to get out of them.

So the question presented is, will Villarreal be able to turn things around against a dangerous Bilbao team that just barely lost to both Barcelona and Madrid over the last two weeks? Things have not gone smoothly this year for the Basque side, but they have shown signs of life over the last three weeks, including a win midweek against Recreativo. Playing in Basque country is never easy for any team in Spain, but it seem especially different for the team in yellow from Vila-Real.

The call-up sheet has an interesting feel to it, at least in the striker column. Franco is out with a muscle issue, alongside the long-term injured Nihat. In addition to the other long-term problem, Eguren, Ibagaza continues to be slow in recovery, and we can add Viera to the list. Not sure if it is his hurt pride or a physical ailment or if Pellegrini is just trying to let him know that just because he doesn't play much, that doesn't mean he can allow a season's worth of goals in a match.

Keepers: Diego López and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Ángel, Fuentes, Gonzalo, Godín, Cygan and Capdevila.
Midfielders: Senna, Edmilson, Bruno, Cani, Cazorla, Matías Fernández and Pirés.
Forwards: Llorente, Altidore and Rossi.

I would be surprised if the starting lineup does not look like this:

Diego Lopez

Angel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevila

Pires, Senna, Bruno, Cazorla

Rossi, Llorente

We have to put our best 11 out there. And although Gonzalo and Godin have not looked like anyone's best eleven as of late, Cygan and Fuentes have looked worse. With only Altidore on the bench it could be Mati coming in as a withdrawn forward (the position he needs to play anyway) if Pellegrini thinks an offensive substitute is needed. But Edmilson, Cygan and Fuentes will not see playing time, and I would be surprised if Cani did. I realize that it is a very bad situation when you look at your bench and you realize there is no one you can trust to come in and bring a spark.

So, is a win possible? I am not very optimistic. Pellegrini is going to really have to rally the squad if there is any hope of pulling in the three points - three points we are desperately in need of if we are going to have a chance at Champions League qualification come late May. But, I am not so sure it will happen. I would accept a 0-0 finish (anything for a clean sheet), but goals will be scored. Rather than optimistic this week, I will do my best to be realistic. We are not a top-notch team at the moment. And until we add a little depth, we won't be. Athletic 2-2 Villarreal.