*Had the wrong time below - the match is at 4pm eastern in the US.
It all comes down to this, as Villarreal desperately need 9 points in three matches to have any chance at Champions League play, and perhaps to secure any European competition at all. Villarreal know they are facing a steep task, with the likes of Madrid, Valencia, and away to Mallorca in front of them, but at the same time, all hope is not lost. The match against Madrid is definitely winnable, considering their current run and Villarreal's improving confidence as of late, and the match against Valencia will be a six-point tie (and a potential head-to-head tiebreaker). If we win those two, anything is possible heading into the last weekend in the season.
But first things first. Madrid awaits, coming off two horrendous losses, 2-6 to Barcelona, and 3-0 to Valencia. They could not be happy with their play as of late, and know that the Liga title is all but lost - but they will be hungry to regain their pride, and to alleviate some pressure from their fans. Unfortunately for them, they will be missing quite a few players for the match: Pepe, Metzelder, Marcelo, Salgado, Guti, Gago, and Sneijder (plus long term injuries).
Their 18 called for the match include: Casillas, Dudek; Ramos, Torres, Cannavaro, Heinze, Agus; Robben, Lass Diarra, Van de Vaart, Parejo, Faubert, Drenthe, Javi Garcia; Raul, Higuain, Huntelaar, Saviola.
Quite a few of those names would have no chance of traveling to this match if not for the long list of injuries and suspensions. Villarreal will be looking to take advantage of the lack of depth and experience. It will be especially interesting to see either Ramos or Heinze line up in central defense. And who knows what the midfield is going to look like.
Villarreal must feel pretty good, all things considered, when looking at the injury report for the match. Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla, two definite starters when healthy, are of course out with long term injuries. Otherwise, though, everyone is healthy. As noted before, Ibagaza and Capdevila both are back at full strength, which were the only injury concerns for Pellegrini.
Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Javi Venta, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevila, Ángel and Fuentes.
Midfielders: Eguren, Ibagaza, Bruno, Cani, Mati Fernández and Pires.
Forwards: Nihat, Rossi, Llorente and Guille Franco
Speaking of Pellegrini, this will be the first match after serious rumors have surfaced indicating that he could be on his way out after the end of next season. Hopefully the players will not be too distracted by that, and will find the focus for the match. Although earlier this week practice was cut short because the players were not putting forth the required effort, a report from a more recent practice suggests the players are back on the same page with their manager.
I expect Pellegrini to revert to a more traditional 4-4-2 after last week's experiment with Eguren as the only true holding midfielder to start the match. My best guess as to the starting lineup:
Ángel - Gonzalo - Godin - Capdevila
Cani - Eguren - Bruno - Ibagaza
Rossi - Llorente
It would be easy to see a few changes - such as Javi Venta for Ángel, to prevent him from picking up the suspension-laden yellow card, or Pires in for Ibagaza. I expect Rossi to get the start, even though he has been cold since late February, as Nihat has brought a lot of energy to matches coming off the bench.
The match is on GolTV at 2pm 4pm eastern in the US. Otherwise, you can find it on rojadirecta.com. ENDAVANT!