It's a match of almosts on Sunday afternoon at El Madrigal. Consider the following:
- It's not quite Manuel Pellegrini's first visit to Vila-real since his departure after 5 glorious seasons at the helm. He returned last season as the enemy, guiding Real Madrid to 3 points in a testy 0-2 victory for the merengues. You may remember Ronaldo waving to Ángel en route to the opening tally. Get well soon, (good) Ángel.
- It's not the Europa League, but nevertheless, it is an important match for Villarreal. Valencia jumped into third place in La Liga last week, so for the first time since jornada 3, Villarreal CF is not at the top of Liga Justa. With Valencia held at home by Sporting to start jornada 24, a win takes us back into third place.
- It's not quite next week's six-pointer against Almería, but every point is critical for the boquerones. And you may remember what happened the last time a side visited El Madrigal ahead of a visit from Almería. Be wary, boys.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out how Málaga CF is at the bottom of La Liga. The Andalusian side has money (from Sheikh Al Thani), a solid manager, many new signings, and a plethora of offensive talent.
However, they seem to lack cohesion and any semblance of defensive ability, having conceded a staggering 49 goals in 23 matches. That is 10 more than the second-worst defensive record in La Liga, and Málaga has conceded as many goals at home (23 in 11 matches) as Villarreal has in total. Ouch.
All the same, keep an eye out for Portuguese midfielders Duda and Eliseu, especially from set pieces. One or the other seems to be good for a goal every time we face them.
Garrido's squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López & Mariño.
Defenders: Capdevila, Catalá, Cicinho, Gonzalo, Marchena, Mario & Musacchio.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Bruno, Cazorla, Cani, Marcos Gullón & Wakaso.
Strikers: Nilmar, Rossi & Marco Ruben.
No Marcos Senna, who is back on the shelf. So look for Matilla (currently reacquainting himself with the doghouse), Marcos Gullón, and even Wakaso to feature alongside Bruno in the doble pivote. I expect Cazorla, Gonzalo (as Marchena is suspended for the Napoli return leg), and Rossi to start on the bench.
There is no excuse to fail to beat the colista at home. And the B team had an exciting 2-2 draw away to Las Palmas, with both sides finishing on 10 men. Endavant Villarreal!