It’s not quite the £30 million prize for finishing in 4th place in a major European league, but the Europa League playoff is a financially lucrative tie to Villarreal CF (if not the matches themselves). Hope the weather holds out and that fans come to the first official match of the season at El Madrigal. I doubt our rather unknown opponents from the Transmash region will be a big draw, but the show must go on.
With the return leg only three days before the La Liga opener at the Anoeta, Juan Carlos Garrido would like to take a sizable advantage to Belarus and thereby rest some key players. Expect a strong starting XI on Thursday, similar to the squad that started Saturday’s tune-up against Segunda B side Alzira. No Marco Ruben, but Jozy Altidore and Gonzalo Rodríguez are set to keep their squad numbers.
After the infamous 2006 defeat to Slovenia’s NK Maribor that knocked Villarreal out of the Intertoto Cup and Europe altogether, the club is on notice not to underestimate inferior (on paper) opposition. I think this tie will proceed more along the lines of last season’s 1-3, 6-1 drubbings of Dutch side NAC Breda at the same stage.
Expected starting XI: 4-4-2
Capdevila Musacchio Marchena Ángel López
Cazorla Bruno Senna Cani
Prediction: 5-1 to Villarreal. Goals by Cazorla (2), Rossi (2), and Cani. ¡Endavant!