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Preview: Atlético - Villarreal

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Well, it's that time of year again: the time when Villarreal takes on its former stars in the form of the overpaid, overhyped, overvalued, and underperforming second side from Madrid. This year has not been kind to the mattressmakers; of course, that is an annual result, but it is worth repeating, as I think it always brings a bit of good cheer to Villarreal fans.

Atlético has a way of always convincing the prognosticators that this is their year. It has been a long time since it was their year. Beginning with the 2002-03 season (their first season back following promotion), their finishes have been the following: 12th, 7th, 11th, 10th, 7th, 4th, 4th, 9th. Only in 3 of those 8 years have they finished higher in the table than the lowly boys from Villarreal.

As I say this, I can't help but stop and admit that Atlético has had its occasional share of success. Their history goes back pretty far, to a point when they were one of the real powers in Spain. More lately, as recently as 1995-1996, when Villarreal was basically unheard of, Atlético was winning the domestic double. Their most recent exploits have seen them win the Europa League last year (over Fulham) and the UEFA Super Cup this year (against Rafa Benitez's Inter). But the thing is - and it is pretty clear if you look at them over the last year - even when they are doing something positive, no one really takes them seriously.

This year doesn't look much better for the rojiblancos. As things stand, they managed to eek out a point against Getafe in midweek and find themselves in 8th place, a gaping 15 points in Villarreal's rear-view mirror. They are currently in the process of recovering from a period on life support, when they lost four consecutive matches against Sporting, Bilbao, Barca, and Valencia (not that Villarreal can say that much about its recent run of form).

Atlético Madrid is generally well-known for its defense. That is, how terrible its defense tends to be. So it may be a bit shocking to most that, this year, they have the 6th best goals-against average in La Liga. They have given up 34 goals to date in 26 matches, around 1.3 goals per game. Villarreal picked up two of those goals when the sides met at El Madrigal, but things will be tougher at the Vicente Calderón, where the Madrid side has only given up 12 goals in 13 matches. Interestingly, they have lost starter Perea for this match due to yellow card accumulation - I do not know if that makes their defense better or worse.

The other interesting squad issue for Atlético will be the plight of La Rubia - Diego Forlán. He apparently has had some locker room struggles with his teammates, to the point that there have been rumors of a campaign to prevent anyone on the team from passing the ball to him. Fellow former Yellow Submariner and Uruguayan international Diego Godín has come to his defense of late, telling the team to lay off Blondie, and that all he needs is to pick up a little confidence - which is probably a pretty accurate assessment of the at-times ridiculously dangerous striker.

Villarreal has not yet announced its squad for Saturday, but it should be the normal call-up. Of course, Garrido will not be on the bench, as he had some choice words for the official in the difficult match against Racing and will serve out the finale of his two-match suspension. On the players' side, Wakaso looks to be gaining favor with the absent Garrido, having seen action in two consecutive matches, and while not exactly lighting up the scoreboard, the Ghanian has provided the speed, ball skills, and power needed to shore up the thin Villarreal midfield.

I expect to see Musacchio in the back, knowing the speed that Atlético Madrid has in its strikeforce. This time I figure it will be Gonzalo pairing with him, as Marchena just played 90 minutes on Wednesday, and his old legs can take only so much. Thus, the lineup should look traditional:

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

No prediction from me this time, but I am really hoping that we embarrass Atlético in front of their own fans. Villarreal needs to press for a goal early, as the Atlético fans are so quick to turn to the whistle that the home-field advantage can be negated. And considering the gulf of points between Atlético and the Champions League places, they just might not have the heart to fight back.