Villarreal now must know that qualification for the Champions League is basically impossible without winning. And they have to do it against one of the top two clubs in Europe. At the Camp Nou. With Barcelona capable of clinching the liga crown with a victory. And with absolutely no momentum.
Does that about sum it up?
For a must-win match, we are facing pretty desperate straights. Villarreal are coming off a loss against 10-man Sevilla, and cannot seem to score goals. That is a trend that has been continuing of late, and to a degree, over most of the season. Over the last six matches, the team has totalled four goals. Llorente has managed a couple, but neither Nihat nor Rossi can break the snide. Our third leading goalscorer on the team - Cazorla - is out injured, making our third-highest-scoring available player...Capdevila, with four goals on the season.
Barcelona has totaled 100 goals over the course of the season, which is staggering of itself, but also has only allowed 28. They have a goal differential of 72, while Villarreal's sits at 3 (49 scored, 46 allowed).
All of that is basically to say that Villarreal have a near-impossible must-win situation facing them if they want to maintain any European hopes at all.
Looking at European qualification, Valencia almost secured their place in next year's Champions League next year, so it is looking like the Europa League is the team's only chance. The challengers for the EL positions are Atletico Madrid (5th place, ahead on goal differential), Depor (53 points, 2 points behind Villarreal), and Malaga (51 points, 4 points back). Today, Atletico take on Espanyol in Madrid. Deportivo travels to Recreativo Huelva, and Malaga welcome Racing Santander. Perhaps some of our loanees could come through for us against Deportivo and Malaga!
Barcelona have three major injuries for the match. Milito has been out for months, and is a long-term casualty. Perhaps the best news for Villarreal is that Thierry Henry has not recovered (you know Angel and Venta are breathing a sigh of relief!), and Marquez is out after his meniscus tear in the first leg against Chelsea.
Villarreal are of course suffering their own share of injuries (I would, in fact, give Barcelona all of their injured players back in exchange for having Cazorla and Senna healthy). This might be the first match in a while, though, where the team is otherwise healthy and not suspended. Guille Franco was left behind as a technical decision. Pellegrini's nineteen-man squad includes:
Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevila, Ángel, Fuentes and Cygan.
Midfielders: Eguren, Ibagaza, Bruno, Cani, Mati Fernández, Pires and Matilla.
Forwards: Nihat, Rossi and Llorente.
Unfortunately, although we have a nearly-full squad (with two major exceptions, of course), Villarreal have four players facing suspension if they pick up a single yellow card. The players, with their current number of yellow cards in parentheses, include Gonzalo (9), Eguren (9), Fuentes (4), and Angel (4). Could you imagine what our defense would look like if all four of them were suspended against Madrid next weekend?
My predicted lineup:
Ángel - Gonzalo - Godin - Capdevila
Cani - Eguren - Bruno - Ibagaza
Rossi - Llorente
Yes, I think Villarreal will bring Rossi back out of the dark corner they have been keeping him in. Although he didn't show it in his 20 minutes last weekend, perhaps he will be mad enough that he puts some goals on the board!
No prediction from me, but I haven't lost hope yet. It wouldn't be easy, but it is definitely possible that Villarreal could eek out a victory. They have the necessary depth this week, and Barcelona have to be a little distracted with having just qualified in controversial fashion against Chelsea, and they have the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao midweek. ENDAVANT!