It almost feels wrong that Villarreal, coming off such a huge, uplifting win, should be facing such a dire match so soon. Villarreal have been playing superbly over the last five weeks or so, and have now reached the final eight of the biggest club competition in the world. And yet, suddenly we are facing what many people consider almost a sure loss. I am not trying to sound negative - I am only trying to prepare myself (and any readers) for the titanic challenge that faces the club.
Villarreal will surely have the first half of this season's Atletico clash on their minds as they take the pitch tomorrow afternoon. After going down two goals early, Villarreal never backed down and took a spectacular 4-2 advantage midway through the second half. But then, the entire season broke down in seven minutes (yes, look back - this was the match that really started it all, despite the bevy of commentators who are quick to point out the Poli Ejido debacle, which began three days later). Atletico scored twice to even the match, pull out the draw, and with the point destroyed the Submarine's confidence for the next three months.
Atletico Madrid are coming off a run of championship-worthy form, defeating Barcelona and admirably drawing with that other squad from the capital. And yet, there is sudden turmoil in Madrid's little-brother club. Atletico are in the midst of a mentality breakdown after bowing out of the Champions League. Questions abound after Abel Resino dropped Forlan for the Porto match when goals were at a premium, as they had given up two goals at the Vicente Calderon two weeks prior. It surely did not improve the situation that a major shareholder has called out Maxi, Kun Aguero, and Resino towards the end of the week.
But despite controversy engulfing the ever-underachieving side from Madrid, they still bring to the table a ferocious attack to the match, on a day where Villarreal's defense has come down, it seems, with the plague. Atletico have one of the most potent offenses in La Liga, having scored a very impressive 53 goals this season (only behind the two league leaders Barcelona and Madrid). Villarreal are without four defenders - (1) Angel, (2) Gonzalo, (3) Godin (suspended), and (4) Cygan - out of seven total. To compensate, we are dropping a defensive midfielder (Eguren) back to central defense, and bringing up two players - Kiko and Mario Gaspar - from the B team. So, in other words, our back line will be held together with duct tape and spit, with the likes of Aguero, Forlan, and Simao charging at us like a bull looking at a heifer in heat.
Atletico have one major concern in the personnel department - which could work to Villarreal's advantage. Tomas Ujfalusi will miss the match through injury. Also, they dropped Maniche from the squad. They have recovered Raul Garcia and Luis Garcia, though, and should feel pretty good about things.
For Villarreal, in addition to being drafty in defense, Villarreal will also be without hero Llorente, who continues to suffer from a knee knock he picked up lifting Villarreal in the Champions League. The traveling contingent includes:
Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Fuentes, Capdevila, Kiko, and Mario Gaspar.
Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Eguren, Santi Cazorla, Pires, Mati Fernández, Ibagaza, Cani and Bruno.
Forwards: Nihat, Rossi and Guille Franco.
For those who have not seen the names Kiko and Gaspar before, you are not alone. Kiko has made a couple of appearances in the squad (but without any time on the pitch) as a backup central defender, but Mario Gaspar, a Spanish U-19 international, is included as a backup right back for the first time in his career.
Villarreal will present an interesting lineup for sure. My expectation looks like this:
Javi Venta - Fuentes - Eguren - Capdevila
Cazorla - Cani - Senna - Pires
Nihat - Rossi
Rossi is going to be vital this weekend to help break down the Atletico defense. He has gone on a bit of a cold snap over the last few weeks. In a similar situation, Nihat hasn't scored yet for Villarreal this season. Both will have to come up big tomorrow.
Oh, the painful prediction! Although I got the score right midweek (for perhaps the first time all season!), guessing this week's score with honesty makes me a little uncomfortable. I have a hard time expecting a win on this trip (which is even more unfortunate, as two friends of mine are traveling with the team this week to the match!). So, I will not express my deepest fears, and I will settle for a 2-2 draw.
For American fans, the match will be on GolTV at 2pm eastern.
Despite my trepidation, I still say ENDAVANT!