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Match Preview: Villarreal - Sporting Gijon

This must might be it (how many times have I said that over the last month and a half?). Villarreal just might have turned the corner last week - although they picked up a draw, it was a return to the "jogo bonito" that the Yellow Submarine is well known for. So much confidence has been lost with Villarreal over the last two months, and the style of play has reflected that. No longer has it been the steady, calm passes moving up the field - the team has resorted to long balls over the top, and the inefficiency in front of goal has reflected that. Villarreal have picked up 9 points of the last available 18. That is not necessarily impressive, by any means, but it is signs of progress. And getting Cazorla back on the scoring books last week could be a major piece of the puzzle to really right the ship.

Sporting come in with one win (impressive, over Sevilla) and four losses (by a total of 12 goals) in their last five matches. Needless to say, although a 'comfortable' six points off the drop, they are not in the best of form. Of course, they did only lose to Barcelona and Madrid by a total of six goals, as opposed to thirteen this time around.... But none of that means that they will be giving any quarter when it comes to tomorrow's match. Villarreal have become the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of teams after playing the Sevilla - Barcelona - Madrid gauntlet, and it may be no different.

According to Marca, expect Sporting Gijon to move away from their more traditional 4-2-3-1, and employ a 4-1-4-1 in the match. Sporting will possibly see the return of midfielder Andreu, who has not played since the end of November because of injury.

Villarreal will be without Guille Franco, who has not fully recovered from last week's bruising collision he took, and Angel and Gonzalo. Angel has a muscle issue, and has not been training at full strength. Gonzalo, of course, is a long-term casualty. The full call includes:

Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Godín, Cygan, Fuentes, Javi Venta and Capdevila.
Midfielders: Eguren, Senna, Cazorla, Ibagaza, Matías Fernández, Pires, Bruno and Cani.
Forwards: Rossi, Llorente y Nihat.

This could be a good time to continue Cani's good run of form. What will be most interesting to me will be whether Senna returns to his starting role. I think I would like to give him one more week starting from the bench, and in his place, I would put Ibagaza. With Cani starting, and saving Pires for a substitute's roll, my lineup would look like this:

Diego López
Javi Venta - Godín - Fuentes - Capdevila.
Cazorla - Eguren - Ibagaza - Cani.
Rossi - Llorente

With Pires and Nihat on the bench, we would have a strong offensive weapon in our pocket if the match came down to that. I do not think it will, though - I really do expect Villarreal to play it's best football of the year, and perhaps produce its best result of the year. This is the perfect time to be finding our groove - none of the teams surrounding us (Valencia, Sevilla, Atletico, Deportivo, Malaga) have been picking up bushels of points as of late, and despite our two-month slide (has it been three months, now?), we are still within fighting distance for third place in the league. The Champions League for next year, if we play to our potential, is a very attainable goal. And, as we are picking things up now, moving into the first knockout stage of the 2008-2009 Champions League could not come at a better time.

Despite the importance of recent matches to regaining Villarreal's standing in La Liga, it will be this match that tells us if we are advancing and have the heart to fight for third place in the league, or if it will be Europa League at best next year. I believe the team are ready to step on the gas. The fog is lifting, and the team is on its way out of its long, long slump. Prediction for tomorrow: 4-0. Yes, four goals. I think it's possible. We haven't done it since November 1st, but I think we are due. Endavant!