This is one that followers of Villarreal have had marked on their calendars since just after the World Cup. Matches between the Yellow Submarine and the free-wheeling mattressmakers from Madrid are always high-scoring, high-drama affairs, but this one stings a little bit. Three short years after one of the most exciting players Villarreal has ever seen in yellow, Diego Forlan, left the club high and dry in a money making venture to Madrid's second rate club, many fans have felt a little uneasy, a little sick to the stomach. It is one thing to lose a fan favorite goleador, it is quite another to lose him to a "direct rival" for Champions League positions. Twice he has helped Madrid's also-rans into Champions League positions at the end of the season (and in 2008-2009 knocking Villarreal out of a CL position by 2 points), and just last year he helped carry Atletico to the Europa League title, adding to a history that while lowly in comparison to the Madrids and Barcas of La Liga, is one that Villarreal could only dream about. To put it simply, as is quite clear from the length of this reminiscence, it hurt.
And now we get to live through that all over again, in such parallel fashion that the similarities only tweak Villarreal that much more. Another Diego from Uruguay made the five hour trek westward to the stadium in the foothills of El Bernabeu, this one a defender named Godin. Villarreal's World Cup hero, who everyone spoke so highly of this summer (including, of course, the writers at this site and many of the people who contribute in the comments section), quickly parlayed the well-gotten fame derived from being a central piece to the defense that helped spur Uruguay's run to glory into a fat paycheck.
Don't get me wrong. I know Villarreal is a "small club" when the situation is looked at from afar. I know that Villarreal will never be the club that the best player in the world, in the prime of his career, would consider joining (that is, of course, unless he had some pretty severe personality quips that prevented him from being able to play anywhere else). The problem is that, despite its admittedly more complete trophy case, Atletico Madrid has not been a better club than Villarreal in years. Since the beginning of the 2004-2005 season, know how many times Atletico has topped Villarreal at the end of the season? Once. But I guess these two transfers just go to say a lot about the mamma's boy relationship we seem to have in the transfer market with Atletico. And, for that matter, in all likelihood it has to be the same way with any other club that has significant cash reserves and can pay players more, despite playing a poorer version of football. So I guess that again, all I can say when it comes to the necessary transfers like these, in which Villarreal's books are put in order but the very clubs we will be trading punches with for a spot in the Champions League are strengthened, is that...it hurts.
So yes, I have had this match circled on my calendar for a while.
But in all likelihood you didn't stop by the site to hear me whine about one of the permanent problems of loving a club from a small town. There is a big match tomorrow, and no matter who is suiting up for which team, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is us taking the three points from the encounter and proving to La Liga that we are for real this term.
Our form has been good, and there is no reason to go in depth about it here. The 2-2 draw with Hercules in Alicante following the two-week international break was disappointing, but in no way a bad result against a very dangerous club. The bad result flowing from that match was the loss of Senna to injury, and the loss of two vital players to red cards, Borja Valero and Mateo Musacchio.
The club turned things around a bit in midweek continental action, with a businesslike 1-0 defeat over PAOK to move into the top spot in Group D, halfway through the group stage.
So the bit issue tomorrow are the player personnel losses we suffered on Monday, and the fact that we will be squeezing our third game in within a week. Senna looks to have recovered, at least to the point of being well enough to be included in the squad. Valero and Musacchio are out for the match due to their red card suspensions, and will be sorely missed. The loss of Musacchio is perhaps most damaging to the club, as the health of Carlos Marchena is in question; Marchena has been listed in the call-up, though. Garrido's squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Ángel, Gonzalo, Catalá, Marchena, Capdevila and Mario.
Midfielders: Senna, Bruno, Matilla, Cazorla, Jefferson Montero and Cani.
Forwards: Nilmar, Rossi, Altidore and Marco Ruben.
Marchena's presence could be key in this match. Reports out of Spain are that he will be available. If he is able to pair with Gonzalo, his hard-nosed defending could be key in shutting down the pairing of Forlan and Aguero.
Injury concerns do still haunt Garrido's call, despite Marchena's apparent health. Marcos Senna missed out on much of training on Friday, and his participation on Sunday is in doubt. Angel suffered an injury to the instep of his right foot on Thursday, but signs are that he should start.
This will be a different type of challenge than we have seen from Atletico in the past. For years, the club's signing policy has been one that perhaps even the greatest thinkers of our time could not figure out. It seemed that their mission was to put together two great forwards (along with a couple of bad ones), more midfielders than you could shake a stick at, and then try and weld together the worst defense imaginable. And repeat.
But this term, with the addition of Godin to a backline that includes some actual talent (both in defending, and in leg breaking), and the development of their young star goalkeeper, De Gea, they have now managed to put together a strong team. In reality, they are a club who should be able to challenge for the top of the table. Lucky for everyone else, a couple of key injuries and suspensions have knocked their legs out from under them before the race really even got started. And, with Atletico's recent history and their constant near-paralysis when hearing their club compared to Real Madrid (I jest, I jest), such a loss of momentum might just be enough to scupper their entire season.
The match will not be easy, but it is absolutely vital. Villarreal's first real challenge from a club that should certainly finish in a European spot will go a lot towards determining whether the Yellow Submarine's rise over the first seven matches of this season to a very respectable second place is reflective of the quality of the side or of the quality of the teams they have matched up against. The match is made more difficult with the loss of three regular starters. No predictions from me today, but I will be following this match with great confidence that Villarreal can pull this one out and put La Liga truly on notice.