After 19 matches, the second half of the season begins. Villarreal had a mixed bag of a first half, and find themselves sitting in fifth place in a battle with Valencia for the final Champions League spot, but Osasuna can't even come up for air. No matter how they play, they continue to sit at the bottom of the table and continue to stare relegation in the face.
Villarreal have finally found a pulse, after a few reasonable showings against the top teams in the league, having beaten Mallorca comfortably, if not impressively, 2-0. The win was a vital spark for the team's confidence, and hopefully will use a bit of that fire to make another impressive run through the first half of the schedule.
The last time the clubs met, in the first match of the season, Villarreal managed a 1-1 draw at Osasuna, which was considered a stumble. It is always difficult to play in Pamplona, but Villarreal had great visions for the season. A draw was not wholly unpredictable however, because the Basque side always plays the Yellow Submarine very close (sometimes much too close, as last year the results went for a draw in El Madrical and 3-2 at El Estadio Reyno de Navarra). Now, Osasuna are coming off an undeserved 3-1 loss at Real Madrid, in which Juanfran was sent off for diving twice, despite replays showing the "dives" were clear fouls in the box. In other words, Osasuna had at least a 3-3 draw in their back pockets, if not a win at the Bernabeu, were it not for the woeful officiating of Alfonso Perez Burrull.
So, Osasuna come in with a bit of fire, and perhaps a bit more confidence than you would expect from the team 20th in the table. And things do not get easier for Villarreal, as Diego Godín is out suspended after his fifth yellow card, and Gonzalo Rodriguez is still recovering from a meniscal issue. That means that the two first choice central defenders are out, to be replaced by aging Fabricio Fuentes and Pascal Cygan. Fuentes has represented himself well recently, including scoring Villarreal's 500th Primera Liga goal in the comeback against Valencia. Cygan, however, has looked his age. He is significantly slower and less agile than he was last year, and last year he had already lost a step.
Villarreal are also missing striker Nihat, after his most recent knee surgery. The forward position is not nearly as big of a worry, though, as Villarreal have significant reserves there, including the warming Giuseppe Rossi and Joseba Llorente.
Osasuna have their own injury and suspension worries. Juanfran will be available, as his second yellow card was overturned. But they will be missing forward Kike Sola and defenders Roversio and Sergio through injury, and midfielders Patxi Punal and Masoud Shojaei through suspension.
Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Ángel, Capdevila, Fuentes and Cygan.
Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Eguren, Santi Cazorla, Pires, Ibagaza, Mati Fernández, Cani and Bruno.
Forwards: Rossi, Llorente, Guille Franco and Altidore.
Villarreal should go back to a more traditional look for the match, hopefully with Senna showing a bit of life in the middle. My thoughts on the lineup:
Ángel, Fuentes and Cygan, Capdevila
Santi Cazorla, Marcos Senna, Eguren, Pires
In other words, I expect Pires to find his way back into the starting lineup after some time starting on the bench. It would not shock me if Ibagaza took the start on the left wing, though. My predictions have been so off base that I am going to avoid one again this week. It will be a disappointment, though, if we come away with anything other than a victory. Despite the weakness in the back line, we have to be able to take care of business against the bottom team in the league.