On the face of it, Villarreal is facing a dilemma. After a brutal stretch of matches (tomorrow will be their 6th match since January 3rd, a lineup that has included games against Real Madrid, Valencia, and, including tomorrow, Sevilla twice), Villarreal have to decide what is important. They want silverware, but with injuries mounting and three competitions still going strong, at some point they have to make a thoughtful decision about where those trophies are going to come from. And if you had asked President Roig a week ago where he thought the best opportunity was to grasp the club's first-ever championship, I could almost guarantee he would have said this very Copa competition that continues tomorrow. But oh how quickly things can change....
Last Wednesday, Villarreal came out firing on all cylinders - or at least, firing on sufficient cylinders to take a two goal lead after half an hour. The last hour of the match did not go quite as smoothly. Not only did Villarreal lose their second-string keeper, Juan Carlos, to a significant injury, they also lost the last hour, at home no less, by a horrible 1-3 scoreline. The final result: a 3-3 draw, having given up three away goals. Villarreal set themselves up nicely if they prefer to win the Copa del Rey matches in stunning, come-from-behind fashion a la the recent incredible Round of 16 4-0 second half thrashing of . . . uh . . . the little club from that unimportant town a few miles south of Vila-real that I can never remember the name of. But something tells me that going up against a few towering forwards in the Sánchez Pizjuán with a defense that has been looking more like a bullfighter practicing verónicas as of late, rather than a professional futbol club defense, will make that a hard bargain.
Villarreal's other options are not necessarily perfect, though. La Liga is admittedly a lost cause, sad as that is to say. The Europa League is a realistic option for the club, but one should question just how realistic it is at this point, at least when it comes to using that as the basis for bowing gracefully out of other competitions to save your strength - we are only sitting in the Round of 32, going up against a Napoli club that finds itself in second place in Serie A (yeah, did you realize that!?), with clubs like Bayer Leverkusen (4th in the Bundesliga), Liverpool, Benfica, and Zenit still comfortably hanging around.
So, as far as I can tell, the tough decision is not as tough as it seems on its face. Tomorrow is simply a must-win match against a club that, while always difficult for us, we know we can beat.
It will be a pieced-together team tomorrow, a mixture of B-teamers, a new addition, and the two or three A-teamers that have not succumbed to injury this month:
Keepers: Xavi Oliva and Diego López.
Defenders: Cicinho, Mario, Gonzalo, Catalá, Joan Oriol, Capdevila and Musacchio.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Cani, Bruno, Matilla, Jefferson Montero and Cristóbal.
Forwards: Altidore, Marco Ruben and Rossi.
Notably, Marchena should be back with the club soon. He began practicing this week, but is not near match fit. Perhaps the vacation-esque five day break between this match and Sunday's match against Real Sociedad will give him sufficient time to get ready to spend a few minutes back on the pitch.
I expect Juan Carlos Garrido, never pleased, no matter what (see video of Cani's ridiculous goal this weekend, and Garrido's reaction, in which, if I read his lips correctly, he wanted the shot taken from 3/4s of the pitch, rather than the halfway line), to go with a reasonably defense-oriented set up to start the match, concerned about conceding goals. Obviously, he cannot settle for a draw unless it is one that reaches the stratospheric heights of last week's match, so he has to play for the clean sheet, 0-1 victory if he wants to see the team progress. If a goal is not picked up early, he will have to transition into a more offensively-minded lineup before the match gets away from him. I expect the starting lineup to look like this:
Cicinho - Gonzalo - Musacchio - Capdevila
Borja Valero - Bruno - Matilla - Cani
Marco Ruben - Rossi
The only possible changes I could see Garrido making there are putting in Cristóbal instead of Matilla, and Mario for Cicinho. Even though there is speculation that it could be Xavi Oliva to start in goal, I cannot imagine that happening considering that he has not seen a single minute of playing time so far in the 2010-2011 season.
Surprisingly, these two clubs have an even set of results against each other in the last five matches. Both teams have won two, lost two, and drawn once. If you look more closely, however, the results favor Sevilla. Four of those matches were at El Madrigal, including one of Villarreal's losses and last week's ugly draw.
Tuesday's match is simply going to be a tremendously difficult match. I can't sit here with a straight face and say we are definitely going to win it and move on in the Copa. Of course, I am not ready to concede defeat either. Rossi will have to be the man who pulls out the magic, replicating his incredible match against the Unibets (Unibats?) two weeks ago. If we are going to go through, it is going to be on his shoulders. ENDAVANT!