Villarreal will attempt to keep their spark of momentum going heading into the weekend's match against Racing Santander, knowing that their Champions League hopes depend on turning around recent form in La Liga. Thursday, Villarreal stood tall against one of the top teams in Italy, advancing to the last 16 of the Europa League. The team was clearly exuberant with the win, and not only for the fact that they progressed in Europe. It was the first positive result in nearly a month.
The win over Napoli was the team's first victory in five matches, an embarrassing run of form that had seen the team lose two and draw one against three of the worst teams in the Primera Liga. Those three failures meant that the team dropped eight points that they should have taken. If they had followed through as they should have and won all three matches (two of them at home), they could easily - and should be - sitting six points ahead of Valencia in third place in La Liga, still with an outsider's chance at second. Instead, Villarreal finds themselves two points behind Valencia, a bit unsure of whom to cheer for in the Bilbao - Valencia encounter tomorrow.
All that being said, Villarreal have to put everything that has happened to date in February, and focus on saving their season during their travels north to Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium (yep). It is unfortunate that they have to do this against a Santander side that has been very difficult in El Sardinero. The last time Racing lost at home was in late September. Since then, they have split their eight home matches with four wins and four draws. And in fact, they should be feeling quite good about themselves, having avenged that September loss against Getafe by heading into the Madrid suburbs and taking three points. Also on their side is that for the first time in over a year, the club has managed back-to-back victories.
Racing has had their share of problems, though, and a could of recent bright spots should not be taken as the whole picture. The club have managed a total of 21 goals on the season (24 matches), tied with Deportivo for the least in La Liga. They have given up 33, and that difference explains why they have only won 6 while losing 10 on the season. The goalscoring averages are a bit better at home for Racing, as you would expect considering their eight-match unbeaten run. In 11 matches, they have managed 13 goals, while only giving up 9.
Villarreal continue to suffer through player losses due to injury and suspension, and again will be especially thin in central midfield. The club has to be kicking itself for not making some sort of move for a central midfielder during January now that Marcos Senna is again injured, and out for an indefinite, if not season-long, period. For this match, the club is also without Bruno Soriano, due to his suspension on yellow card accumulation. The Yellow Submarine's best option to start alongside pseudo-central midfielder Borja (it really depends on what week you are watching!) will probably be youngster Marcos Gullón, who saw his first A-team action on Thursday as he came on to provide some defensive cover in the waning minutes o the match. The other options, assuming Garrido reserves Marchena and Musacchio for defense (which is not necessarily the case, considering that Catalá and Gonzalo are also both in the squad) would be fellow B-teamers Cristóbal or Wakaso. Cristóbal saw brief action as a substitute in the disaster at home to Levante a couple of weeks ago, while Wakaso has only been seen in one match for the B-team as a substitute following his joining the youth side in January.
The attacking midfielders are nearly as thin. Cazorla, who has been battling injury, and Cani are the only two that you can expect to start on the outside, as Borja will be necessary in the middle. Once you get past the two of those, there are virtually no options for a wide attacking player, unless you pull a to-date disappointing Cicinho into the mix. Needless to say, experience will be at a premium in the midfield.
Villarreal's squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Mario, Cicinho, Marchena, Musacchio, Gonzalo, Capdevila and Catalá.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Cani, Marcos Gullón, Cazorla, Cristóbal and Wakaso.
Forwards: Rossi, Nilmar and Marco Ruben.
This will almost certainly be a 4-4-2. The only real question is in the back. I think Marchena will be guaranteed a start, having sat on Thursday. I think it is a coin-toss between Gonzalo and Musacchio for the other half of the pairing.
Mario - Marchena - Musacchio - Capdevila
Cazorla - Borja Valero - Marcos Gullón - Cani
Rossi - Nilmar
The club will be fighting a bit of exhaustion, having played a match late Thursday evening, and then had to turn around quickly and head north. It will certainly be tough, but I feel that the club is going to carry that momentum from Thursday. The last couple of minutes before the half (and I assume, the time after the whistle blew for the match, although I missed it!) had to be a huge relief for the club, brief moments of respite from the agony they have been going through since thinking so highly of themselves for the period after the Espanyol match. I think we pull off the victory, but will not keep the clean sheet on the road. 1-2. ENDAVANT!