So, now that we've recovered from the Copa comeback that sent Villarreal supporters into ecstasy (if not more) there's the small matter of a trip to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid. Not too much to say about Real Madrid that hasn't been said. Coach Mourinho gives himself an "11" out of 10 points when asked to review his job performance, Cristiano Ronaldo leads the league in goals scored but gets little love from his teammates, and the Madrid board, players, fans and players manage to keep life interesting with numerous spats, rumors, arguments, and backroom intrigue. Fortunately we have Marca keeping track of it all.
The Bernabeu has been a bogey stadium for the Submarine; they've never won there and have only three ties to show for eleven trips to Madrid, losing last year 6-2. Furthermore, Real Madrid have won all of their eight home games so far this year, and as we all know Villarreal have struggled on the road, so it's hard to see how we can come out with a point this time.
But, Villarreal's confidence is sky-high after the second-half demolition of Valencia on Thursday, and if the team can reproduce that sort of form in the Bernabeu they have to be given a chance to spring a surprise. The downside, though, is that Villarreal had to play their starting XI (except for Juan Carlos in goal) on Thursday; Real Madrid put out their second-string against Levante since they had an eight-goal cushion from the first leg. That may in the end make a significant difference, because Villarreal's bench is thin with Senna, Marchena and Nilmar out. Real Madrid has injuries and suspensions too (Higuain, Pepe, etc.) but can still bring on players like Káká off the bench.
The Madrid press has made much of the travails and struggles of Karim Benzema and the appalling lack of replacement strikers available to Mourinho, but a key man for me is Iker Casillas in goal. He's usually had to come up with a key save early on when his team is still getting its attacking game together, and he's made it every time. Villarreal figure to get some scoring chances from counterattacks, and if one of those can be converted early, the home team may begin to doubt themselves a little bit.
Real Madrid have already named their starting XI:
Casillas; Ramos, Carvalho, Albiol, Marcelo; Lass Diarra, Xabi Alonso, Ozil, DeMaria; Ronaldo and Benzema.
Villarreal, for their part, will feature Diego López in goal, a back four of Capdevila, Catalá, Gonzalo and Ángel, Bruno, Borja Valero, Santi Cazorla and Cani in midfield, and Rossi and Ruben up top. Mussachio returns from suspension but only finds a place among the subs.
Let's face it, most of us accept that Barcelona and Real Madrid are going to dominate the league this year, and very few if any teams will take points off them on the road. There's no pressure on Villarreal to win, but both teams are looking forward to the game and showing how good they both are. I expect us to play hard, use our strengths, and engage Real Madrid in a spirited game, which so often fails to happen in La Liga, and if we do that we just might nick something. We probably will lose this something like 3 to 1-- without Nilmar and after playing so hard on Thursday I can see that, but I'm going to stick my neck out and predict an exciting 2-2 draw that will feel like a win for the men in yellow. Endavant!!