Almeria arrive at El Madrigal with mixed feelings on the results of the last few weeks. Just in the last matchday, they scored a 1-1 draw against holders Real Madrid. The week before, though, they suffered a 5-0 drubbing away to Barcelona. Of course, these days everyone loses that badly to Barcelona...
They do, though, have confidence based on the recent history between the clubs. In two matches agaisnt Villarreal last year, Almeria gained four points, drawing 1-1 at home and then suffering a 1-0 defeat away at el Madrigal. The Almeria defeat in La Liga last year is actually the most recent defeat for Villarreal for the Yellow Submarine.
Villarreal come in with a decidedly unsteady hand on the tiller. If you look at the last six matches in all competitions, Villarreal have 2 wins, three draws, and a loss. Not the type of form the club wants to be in while they try and figure out a best way to get into the Champions League group stages.
They do come off a stunning second half against Athletic Bilbao when considering only Liga matches, but a disappointing draw with AaB in the Champions League. Count in the 0-5 drubbing at the hands of lowly Poli, and we have a real, real problem.
As discussed in earlier posts, the injury front finally looks to be reasonably manageable. Ibagaza, Eguren, Pires and Bruno are all back with the team now. Nihat is still out with a knee injury, but is doing well in his recovery.
Without Nihat, Villarreal have only decided to take three strikers. Altidore, unfortunately, will not get the opportunity to build on last weekend's 90th minute goal against Bilbao. Along with Jozy, Edmilson and Fuentes have been left off for strategic reasons. The call up list for the match is:
Goalkeepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Ángel, Gonzalo, Godín, Cygan and Capdevila.
Midfielders: Senna, Bruno, Eguren, Cani, Ibagaza, Cazorla, Matías Fernández and Pirés.
Forwards: Llorente, Guille Franco and Rossi.
There is no reason not to expect a very traditional starting lineup for Pellegrini. It worked last week, and the midweek match against Polideportivo Ejido is basically a lost cause at this point. However, I do not think that many of the newly-recovered players (especially Ibagaza and Eguren) will get much playing time, if any. My expectation for the starting lineup is:
Ángel - Gonzalo - Godín - Capdevila
Cazorla - Senna - Bruno - Pirés
Llorente - Rossi.
A prediction for the score these days, with Villarreal's current defensive woes, is next to impossible. I expect Villarreal to be able to pull out the important victory to keep pace with Madrid and Barcelona, but it will not be easy. I do think, though, that defense will be able to hold a clean sheet (for the first time in years, it seems). So, I think it will be a 2-0 victory, with goals from Cazorla and Rossi.
Check back here when the match starts, and I will put any stream I can find up online.
Other Match Previews: ESPN Soccernet; Goal.com.