Somehow, the end is already upon us. It seems like the season was starting, so full of possibility, just a few days ago. Since then, Villarreal has been the team that played the most matches before losing, a team that has gone through two horrendous spells of bad form (or one long one, depending on how you look at it), and a team that suffered through more injuries than we fans could have imagined at the beginning of the season. It has not been a bad season, having gone to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and still with a shot at a Champions League berth for next year, but it has not been like 2005-2006, where we came so close to the Champions League final, or like last year, where we ended in a comfortable second place. In sum, it has been a year of ups and downs. In the end, perhaps appropriately after so many teams in La Liga seemed to strive for mediocrity, it will all be defined as much by the outcome in the Atletico - Almeria match as by the result in our away test at Mallorca on the final day.
Villarreal travel to a team that is stuck in 9th place, no matter the outcome. Theoretically, Mallorca have nothing to play for, but they come in on an amazing run of form, with ten wins, four draws, and only two losses over their last 16. That streak includes victories over Barcelona and Madrid in their last two.
Villarreal, of course, have their own mini-streak in progress, having drawn at the Camp Nou, and achieved back to back victories over Madrid and Valencia. Perhaps most importantly, they have scored nine goals in their last three matches. Villarreal had only scored nine goals in nine matches prior to meeting up with Barcelona three weeks ago.
Of course, as alluded to above, Villarreal could win by 100 tomorrow, but it would not matter if Almeria do not pull out a surprise victory against Atletico Madrid (in Madrid, of course). Atletico have won seven of eight, and only show signs of speeding up as Forlan gets closer and closer to a pichichi award. Villarreal sit two points behind Atletico, and Atletico hold the head-to-head advantage over the Yellow Submarine. If they pull out a draw, they will be playing Champions League football next season, while Villarreal putters through the inaugural Europa League.
Villarreal welcome back, in an astounding development, Santi Cazorla to the squad. A mere 55 or so days ago, he went out against Almeria with what looked to be a season-ending broken leg. Somehow he made quite the recovery, not only to be able to walk and run without a cast, but to actually come close enough to match fitness to be included in the squad. No one really expects him to get much playing time, but even having him on the bench should be a positive for tomorrow's match.
Unfortunately, the other injury news coming out of the squad in yellow is not good. Marcos Senna has not reached match fitness, and Fabricio Fuentes, Ariel Ibagaza, and Javi Venta all find themselves on the injured list. Guille Franco has now played his last minutes for Villarreal, as he is suspended for the match. The full call for the match is:
Keepers: Diego López and Viera.
Defenders: Cygan, Gonzalo, Ángel, Godín, Capdevila and Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Cazorla, Bruno, Eguren, Matías Fernández, Cani and Pires.
Forwards: Rossi, Nihat and Llorente.
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is that of Joan Oriol. The young leftback has not featured all year, and, thanks to Kenez's help, we know that Villarreal would owe a good pile of euros if he found his way on the pitch.
Lately Pellegrini has been going with three attacking midfielders and one defensive midfielder. He might not have that option tomorrow, as Ibagaza is out injured. I expect he will return to the more traditional setup of having two defensive midfield roles, with Bruno pairing with Eguren. Last week, after Ibagaza went out early, it was Bruno who came in to take his central midfield role.
Ángel - Gonzalo - Godín - Capdevila
Cani - Bruno - Eguren - Pires
Rossi - Llorente
Villarreal can win this. Mallorca is hot, but they will be thinking of vacation. The end result for Villarreal should be adding three points, but we all know that Villarreal can disappoint. The biggest question comes down to whether an Almeria team that has nothing to play for can pull out a huge upset against an Atletico team that has so much to play for. Possible? Of course. Likely? Hardly. Either way, Villarreal needs to end the season on a positive note. ENDAVANT!