Villarreal finds itself in a depressing run of form: 4 matches without a victory in all competitions, including 2 losses and a draw to some of the teams struggling for air at the bottom of the Primera table. It has not been a fun few weeks for the club, but perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Last Thursday, the club played admirably on the road in the intimidating atmosphere of Naples' Stadio San Paolo, and this past Sunday, the football was better than it has been of late, though the result left the club wanting. Things have to come together now; the club wants a trophy, and Thursday's match against Napoli is win-or-go-home to continue to fight for our last chance of the season.
Napoli is continuing its tremendous run up the Serie A table, and while it was not an impressive victory, held out for a 1-0 victory over Catania on the weekend. They sit in 2nd place, with 52 points from 26 matches. They have won 4 of 5 in Serie A, including a 0-2 victory over Roma. In Italy, they have a very impressive road record, with 7 victories, 2 draws, and 4 losses. To date in the 2010-11 Europa League, Napoli has found itself away from home 4 times and has not been as strong as they have traveling within Giuseppe Rossi-land, picking up 1 win, 1 loss, and excitedly middling their way to two 3-3 draws.
Napoli has released its squad for the match:
Goalkeepers: De Sanctis, Iezzo, Gianello.
Defenders: Cannavaro, Campagnaro, Cribari, Ruiz, Santacroce.
Midfielders: Blasi, Dossena, Gargano, Hamsik, Maggio, Pazienza, Sosa, Zuniga, Yebda.
Strikers: Cavani, Lavezzi, Mascara.
Hamsik started on the bench last week, but needing a goal, I feel sure that Napoli will start him. Napoli is without Salvatore Aronica, who was sent off during the last minute of Thursday's match in Naples.
Villarreal has not yet released its squad for the match, but some early conclusions can be drawn. Villarreal has lost Marchena to a suspension for yellow card accumulation, so the defense and defensive midfield options will be thinned a bit. And Marcos Senna strained his hamstring during the match in Naples and looks to be out for a while. The club could compensate in the midfield by bringing in Marcos Gullón or the newly-acquired Wakaso, as el mister Garrido did over the weekend. Santi Cazorla has been training away from the club this week, still unable to reach an acceptable fitness level. Whether or not he joins the squad for Thursday still is up in the air.
Garrido faces the danger of being caught between two minds, as he will be desperate to avoid giving up an away goal, but at the same time knows we must score. After struggling to return to typical offensive effectiveness after a rash of injuries, Garrido finally found a little offensive magic against Málaga- at least in terms of the build-up. For the first time in weeks, Villarreal looked to be clicking for a good bit of the match, but the problem was the finishing. Although Ruben managed to bundle one home after the club had gone scoreless for about 345 minutes of match time, the team could not break through and failed to finish a number of opportunities they were given. As a result, they ended up paying a heavy price. Garrido will have to break through this goal-scoring impotence, and it will be very hard to do against a disciplined Italian defense.
I see Villarreal going back to the 4-4-2 to try and mix offensive firepower into a strong defensive shell. Unfortunately, we are without the manpower in central midfield, and Garrido could be forced to call upon Matilla, whether he likes it or not. The other option is to start Catalá in the back and put Musacchio alongside Bruno in midfield.
My predicted starting XI:
Mario - Gonzalo - Catalá - Capdevila
Cani - Musacchio - Bruno - Borja
Rossi - Nilmar
The club is amping up for this huge match. Villarreal has gained a reputation, having staked its claim in Europe over the last few years, and the club expects to maintain it. It will be Villarreal's 100th match in European competition, a ridiculously telling statistic for a team that just gained permanent promotion a little over a decade ago.
I don't like making predictions, but this would be a horrible result were we to lose and give up our last chance at hardware this year. Once Villarreal makes it through this stretch of poor form, which I have faith they will before too long, they still have the chance to go deep in the Europa League. The problem is that, right now, they are mired in their poor form, and a powerful Napoli comes knocking tomorrow.