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Preview: Villarreal - Leverkusen

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After Sunday's disastrous home effort in La Liga, Villarreal Club de Fútbol and its fans must regroup and look to Thursday's return leg of the Europa League round of 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. The importance of Nilmar's injury-time winner in Germany cannot be overstated: if the match had finished 2-2, Leverkusen could try to defend in numbers, hoping to catch Villarreal out on the break and win by a solitary goal. But trailing 2-3, Leverkusen has to win by two clear goals, so the Germans have to bring the match to Villarreal, even though they may be left open to Villarreal's quick counters, as happened in the first leg.

The main thing the Germans have going for them is their road form in the Bundesliga, which has been good, and they are coming off an important 1-0 win at Mainz on the weekend. On the other hand, while Villarreal's league form continues to be poor, and they are struggling to score goals (scoring more than one goal in only one of their last eight matches in La Liga), they have been a different team in the Europa League, scoring five goals in their last two games.

Leverkusen also will be without their Chilean sparkplug and leading scorer Arturo Vidal, suspended for yellow card accumulation. He was one of their better players in the first leg, and without him, even more of the load will fall on players like Renato Agusto and Sidney Sam. The latter had a very disappointing match a week ago and was subbed at halftime of Bayer's match on Sunday. Derdiyok and Kießling will remain tall and dangerous in the box, but they need better service than they saw last week.

For Leverkusen to advance, they will need to make far better use of set-pieces than they did at home. Time after time, Villarreal conceded corners, and the resulting kick was easily cleared from danger. In spite of Leverkusen's speed in midfield and overall height, their goals came from a recovered ball in midfield and a shot outside the penalty area, and their second goal could have been easily prevented but for a defensive error. They'll need more of those, plus a little luck this time around.

As for Villarreal, their inconsistency, even at home in the past two months, remains a major concern. A number of key players have appeared in 40 or more matches at this point of the season, and this is a major problem, as is the team's almost complete reliance on the forward line, especially Rossi and Nilmar, to score goals. It has been two months since anyone other than Ruben, Rossi, or Nilmar scored for the Submarine!

The speed of Rossi and Nilmar gave Leverkusen fits in the first match. Normally I would expect both to start, and Garrido to play Cani, Borja, Bruno, and Santi Cazorla in midfield, but the form of both wingmen has not been great of late, and who knows what everyone's fitness levels are at this point. Villarreal has an important league match on the weekend, of course, but I would expect that, for better or worse, you won't see Garrido holding back here. Once we get past this Sunday, many of the starting XI will be off for two weeks, so tired legs and sore bodies will get some rest then. Garrido's call for the match is the same as last time, except Capdevila returns from suspension and replaces Joan Oriol in the list.

We all know that Villarreal is capable of at least drawing at home to progress, and they have to be favored to do so. Yet the apathetic performances against Atlético and Sporting, plus Garrido's odd reading of the game on the weekend, have Yellow Submarine supporters on edge. The club has produced a stirring video and is offering attractive ticket prices to encourage attendance and an exciting atmosphere tomorrow night at El Madrigal. The opportunity to advance is there-- now let's seize it. ENDAVANT VILLARREAL!!