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Preview: Villarreal - Sporting

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Following Villarreal's last-gasp (seriously-- in 20 seconds, how many more breaths could you take?) victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League, the club has to come back to earth in La Liga, a competition in which it simply has been reeling as of late. No matter how you try to spin it-- injuries, Garrido conserving his players for the Europa League, a low point in the season-- we have been playing fiercely horrible over the last month and a half. Things are bad. Very, very bad.

It might be easy to look at the Spanish Primera table and say that Villarreal is doing fine: 4 points off the pace of Valencia for third, and a comfortable 9 points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in fifth. Maybe our drop in form has not hurt us too badly? But take a look with your imagination: think about how many points Villarreal should have and what that table should look like.

Going back to February 5th, consider the additional points we should have taken, at a minimum: Levante (3); Deportivo (3); Málaga (2); Racing (2); Atlético (1). Just looking at those five matches, that is 11(!) points that we absolutely should have picked up. No excuses. Add in those 11 points, and where do we stand? A whopping 7 points above Valencia, and an untouchable 20 points over 5th-place Athletic Bilbao. Imagine Garrido's freedom at that point: to expend all of the club's energies on the Europa League, all the while coasting to a place in next year's Champions League and enjoying a club that is seriously experienced in winning.

Okay, let's drop the imaginary vacation and return to reality: tomorrow is going to be a difficult match to scrape by. Sporting de Gijón is a tough team, despite their low-table showing, and will cause all sorts of trouble for Villarreal. Back in Gijón in October, the Submarine was unsteady throughout and went into the 90th minute down 1-0. It was only a gift from Old Yeller, Sebastián Eguren, in the 90th minute, climbing onto Marchena's back in the box on a free kick, that gave Villarreal a penalty and allowed the club to scrape a point from the match.

Sporting enters the fray coasting along a smooth run of form over their last few matchdays. In the last five matches, Gijón has managed to draw with Barcelona, Zaragoza, and away to Valencia, along with knocking off Getafe. Three impressive results, plus the ho-hum draw against Zaragoza, for a club sitting in 16th place. I guarantee that is better than Villarreal would have done over the same stretch.

The clubs have only met twice at El Madrigal in the Primera, and to date Villarreal has done well at home. In April 2010, Villarreal sported a squad of: Diego López; Javi Venta, Gonzalo, Godín, Capdevila; Bruno, Senna, Cani (Ibagaza); Nilmar (Cazorla), Rossi, Llorente (Pirès); and picked up a 1-0 victory with a 15th-minute goal by Godín. Needless to say, as with a number of those contributing players from last term, we won't be able to count on him this time around.

Prior to that, it was a 2-1 home victory for Villarreal, with Giuseppe Rossi's 2nd-minute goal (the second goal of the match, Gijón having scored in the first minute) and Capdevila's tally just before halftime sealing the win.

While winning a third consecutive home match against Sporting will not be easy, both the players and coaching staff have their eyes on the prize. In order to focus on Thursday's night Europa League encounter without stretching the team's eyes too much to next Sunday's all-important match in Bilbao, the club must pick up 3 points on Sunday.

Villarreal has not yet announced its squad as of this writing, so we can only speculate whether the recent squad move-abouts of Marcos Gullón, Matilla, and Joan Oriol will continue. The team just saw its 4 primary central defenders-- Marchena, Gonzalo, Catalá, and Musacchio-- all go 90 minutes, while Cani (full) and Cazorla (partial) got some good rest. Thus, don't expect a central defender in the midfield this time around. The club will be happy to see Capdevila back-- after serving his suspension-- to try and give some stability to a shaky defensive back line.

I expect to see a defensively-minded Gijón squad, ready to pack the box and withstand pressure. Villarreal will need a focused attack that connects in the final third to break them down. My lineup:

Diego López
Mario - Gonzalo - Musacchio - Capdevila
Cazorla - Bruno - Cani/Borja
Nilmar - Ruben - Rossi

I am thinking that a 4-3-3 is the best way to get our offense going again in La Liga against Sporting's stingy defense. I would like to see Borja get a rest, with Cani starting for him, but I expect it will be Borja. ENDAVANT!