It has been an eventful week for the Yellow Submarine. A 4-2 win at home in the Cup over a team and coach we don't like much, a 4-2 loss on the road in the league to a team and coach we don't like much. But there's no rest for the weary, as Sevilla, the current cup holders, visit Vila-real on Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal.
Seville president del Nido has been a strong ally of President Roig in the TV rights dispute and will plan to enjoy a visit with Sr. Roig in the presidential box, unlike some recent visitors. And the sevillistas lack the arrogance that made our last two opponents so easy to dislike. But make no mistake, when the game starts emotions in El Madrigal will be high, as Villarreal are gunning for their first-ever Copa del Rey semifinal.
Los nervionenses are impressive on paper, but their up-and-down form has resulted in one coach's dismissal already this year, and under current coach Gregorio Manzano they suffered consecutive home defeats to Mallorca, Getafe, and Almeria. Since then they have rallied to outscore Malaga in the Cup and Real Sociedad in the league, but their brittle defense has to be a concern going into this tie.
With Negredo, Kanoute and Fabiano to provide power up front, and quick wingers like Perrotti, Capel and Jesus Navas (who missed the earlier league match in El Madrigal due to injury) to support them, Sevilla offer plenty in attack but have often been wasteful in the final third. Similarly, the backline looks strong, but has seldom inspired great confidence, and for this match backup keeper Javi Varas will be in goal, as Andres Palop (who has been excellent this year) is injured.
When the two clubs met at El Madrigal just over a month ago Villarreal was somewhat fortunate to win 1-0 on a Nilmar goal, set up by Rossi. Negredo and Capel came off the bench early in the second half and nearly changed things--Diego Lopez made some great saves at the end to preserve the win. Sevilla has a great record in cup competitions, and I feel Villarreal needs to win by at least two clear goals (and preferably post a shutout as well) in order to have any sense of comfort going into the second leg next week. It's a tall order, especially given that Ángel has joined Marchena, Senna and Nilmar on the injury list, and for most of our players this will be their fourth match in ten days.
"El Mister" Garrido clearly puts his faith in his starting XI with only a few rotations, putting out the strongest lineup he can for each match. I laud that approach in theory, and the players seem to as well, but facing Sevilla only three days after a physically and mentally draining game in the Bernabeu is going to put that approach to the test. Hopefully a couple of days' rest and the support of the El Madrigal faithful will enable Villarreal to fight through the fatigue and play outstanding attacking football.
Garrido has chosen the following squad, updated to include the newly available Cani.
Goalkeepers: Diego López and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Mario, Capdevila, Musacchio, Gonzalo, Catalá, Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Bruno, Borja Valero, Cazorla, Matilla, Jefferson Montero, Cristóbal, and Cani.
Forwards: Rossi, Marco Ruben and Altidore.
I expect Juan Carlos, in spite of his gaffe last week, to continue in goal in the cup matches, with Capdevila, Musacchio, Gonzalo and Mario Gaspar as the back four. Santi and Bruno will start in midfield for this game along with Borja Valero. Cani escaped sanction for the water bottle toss at the Especially Arrogant One, so may start; if not, I suspect we may see Matilla or Joan Oriol there.
Rossi and Marco Ruben will be up front; it's not the Rossi-Nilmar partnership in terms of understanding, but Ruben's golazo against Real Madrid shows his quality. Rossi is being described as the best player in La Liga not playing with the big two, and for good reason. He now has 16 goals in all competitions, has become the club's all-time leading scorer, and is negotiating with Villarreal to extend his contract, which is terrific news.
For those of you who are historically inclined, these two clubs met in the Round of 16 in the 2003-04 Copa del Rey, Sevilla advancing on away goals. In La Liga, Villarreal has hosted Sevilla eight times; the first four were all drawn, but the Submarine has won 3 of the last 4. Nonetheless, I don't think this is a particularly good matchup for Villarreal. Sevilla's strengths are speed on the flanks and height up front, which makes free-kick opportunities especially dangerous, and defending these has been a problem for us all year. However, we are playing with more authority and confidence than we were in early December, so perhaps we can take advantage of our attacking skills and/or Sevilla defensive frailties to take a lead into the second leg.
It may be an irony of fate, or simply a sign that whoever assigns the referees can't remember what they did from one month to the next, but the arbitro this time will be the same as in the league encounter between these two teams, Alberto Undiano Mallenco. Though regarded by many as the best referee in La Liga, he didn't help his reputation in the first match. Both teams had attacks called back for offsides-that-weren't, and Villarreal supporters will recall Zakora was not cautioned for a bad foul on Senna (which would have been his second yellow) but Rossi received a soft yellow card that resulted in him missing the Getafe match--and we all know how that went. It would be wonderful if after the controversy of the Real Madrid match we could enjoy a match free of complaints about the referee, but in this league that may be asking too much.