Villarreal hosts the team I love to hate today at El Madrigal. But this match is not about Zaragoza, at least from our perspective. At the end of the season, if we have missed out on the Champions League or Europe altogether, we will look back on games like this one.
Real Zaragoza SAD is in rebuilding mode after yet another near-miss of relegation. Since European qualification in the days of now-Champions League winner Diego Milito (Inter Milan), the team from King Ferdinand's Aragón has fallen on hard times. And I am fine with that.
This summer's departures from La Romareda were influential midfielders Gabi (Atlético Madrid) and Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao), along with our very own Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche (on loan at Granada - do we need him now or what?). But thanks to the "anything goes" attitude in Spanish football, all was not lost. Goalkeeper Roberto (Benfica) arrived for €86,000 from the club's pocketbook, with an investor group footing the remainder of the bill (add two zeros). And now Roberto leads La Liga in saves: go figure.
Even for Zaragoza, though, recent weeks have been trying. With Braulio in revolt and FIFA rebuking them for not paying for Francelino Matuzalem (now at Lazio), the club is in disarray. And yet today's opponent and Villarreal are level on five points in La Liga. That has to change.
Villarreal enters the match in a crisis of confidence. Three Champions League defeats in four matches, in addition to our meager league total, and calls to relieve manager Juan Carlos Garrido are mounting. But Fernando Roig is a patient owner, so don't expect changes any time soon. However, he will not demand anything less than European-level results.
My expected XI: Diego López; Mario, Zapata, Musacchio, Oriol; Bruno; Cani, de Guzmán, Valero; Camuñas, Rossi.
Injuries have decimated our strike force, with both Nilmar and Marco Ruben out. Look for Hernán Pérez to make his full debut in relief, particularly if the result is in hand. But first we need another great performance from Giuseppe Rossi. No surprise there.
The match starts at 12 noon Eastern Time and airs live on GolTV (US). Endavant Villarreal!