Wow. What a huge match tomorrow! We are just a 2-2 draw, or a one goal win away from advancing to the final eight of the Champions League. It is extremely nervewracking waiting for it, especially knowing that, at least here in the States, it won't be on television. I will again be stuck at work, surreptitiously checking the score every 15 seconds, not getting too much done. Frustration!!
Villarreal enter the match at a touch of a disadvantage. If they are unable to score a goal, against what will surely be a packed in Panathinaikos defense, then the Greeks will move on through away goals. Villarreal will bring all their attacking prowess, and for that purpose, rested Rossi and Pires for the entire match on Saturday. Pellegrini also saw fit to give Llorente and Cazorla breaks following halftime in the slim 1-0 win against chippy Espanyol.
Concern for Villarreal will continue to be present in the back line. The Yellow managed their first clean sheet in ages (they had conceded in seven consecutive matches, and 14 of their last 15 prior to Saturday's blanking of the Parakeets), but they extended a lot of effort to hold the Catalans out. Fabricio Fuentes especially, who had an amazing match (not even considering the fact that his was the game-winning goal), is sure to be tired on only three days rest after pushing himself so hard. And there is really no one behind him, as Cygan is the only other available central defender. Gonzalo did not make the call for the weekend, showing he is still injury-plagued.
It will be great, though, to finally have Capdevila back. He has been out the previous two matches for cleating Ronaldo in the match against Manchester United in El Madrigal, and having him back will be a huge relief as we patch our defensive holes.
One thing Villarreal should not have, going into the match, is the distraction of poor form in La Liga. Finally, it seems, they have righted the sub, and are picking up points at a slow, but steady, pace. They have managed to grab 11 of the previously available 15, and have not lost since the gaffer against hard-charging Deportivo La Coruna.
Pana, though, will be keeping one eye on the league as they try to keep their focus on the pitch tomorrow. They are tied, but ahead on goal differential, with PAOK Salonika for the second and final Champions League position, heading into the final weekend of the Greek Super League. Panathinaikos is lucky to be facing bottom-of-the-table Thrasivoulos this weekend, which should give them a good opportunity at qualifying for next year's Champions League.
Villarreal will have to push hard and fast to score that first goal. The Yellow Submarine clearly dominated two weeks ago, but opportunity after opportunity was left wanting, and only the one goal was obtained. By taking the match to Panathinaikos, and getting a goal early, Villarreal will be able to turn the table quickly on the Greeks, taking away their advantage. If Villarreal leaves it late to score, nerves will tighten for those in yellow, and the green and white team will only gain in confidence.
Villarreal have a full squad for tomorrow's match, minus the mentioned Gonzalo:
Keepers: Diego López, Viera and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Capdevila, Fuentes, Godin, Cygan and Ángel.
Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla, Pires, Eguren, Mati Fernández, Cani, Ibagaza and Bruno.
Forwards: Nihat, Rossi, Llorente and Guille Franco.
I expect Pellegrini to be very offensive-minded, trying to score early. It will probably be a 4-4-2, as Pellegrini usually uses, but with only one holding midfielder. And, with his improved performances and the importance of this match, I have to think that holder will be Senna. Before Saturday's match, I would have expected Cani to get the start, but he was a bit off all day, and he put in a very hard 90. Ibagaza played the full match as well, which will probably leave his (slightly) older bones a bit tired. Here is my guess for a lineup:
Angel - Fuentes - Godin - Capdevila
Santi Cazorla - Marcos Senna - Ibagaza - Pires
Rossi - Llorente
I fully expect a win from Villarreal, but it will be hard and close. The match calls for pressure, pressure, pressure from Villarreal, and we have to control possession from the first minute. I think it might be Llorente who gets the first goal - and thus gets off his snide. Wow, I am nervous. You can probably tell by how much I wrote. My call: Pana 1 - 2 Villarreal. Endavant!