Normally defending a 5-1 lead in European competition should be easy enough, but Villarreal fans have learned this season never to count on anything being easy. The consolation goal from Twente but more importantly the horrific injury to Gonzalo Rodriguez gave Yellow Submarine fans pause--better not to celebrate making the semifinals quite yet. And then there was the debacle at the Mestalla on Sunday. Santi Cazorla observed, quite rightly, that if the team plays that way in the Netherlands they will be out of the competition.
Santi and Nilmar won't make the trip, having picked up yellow cards in the last few minutes of the match. And frankly while we'll miss them, the key here is defending a four-goal lead, not scoring four or five of our own.
As for Twente, they have their own issues to contend with. The Dutch league gets only two Champions League places (the winner gets direct entry, the runnerup team plays a qualifying game) and there are three teams jockeying for position at the top. Twente lead PSV by 2 points and Ajax by 3, with 4 league matches remaining, and the Tukkers have two away matches coming up, plus they finish the season versus Ajax in Amsterdam.
Given that situation, should the Submarine score in the first half, I think we could effectively see the Tukkers concede the tie and keep their players fresh for their remaining Eredivisie battles, not to mention the Dutch Cup Final against Ajax. On the other hand, a goal or two for Twente before the break would make them feel they could salvage this tie, so the first half may be even more critical than usual.
The team selection includes one extra player who will drop out to make up the 18:
Goalkeepers: Diego López, Juan Carlos, Mariño.
Defenders: Mario, Musacchio, Catalá, Capdevila, Marchena, Cicinho, Kiko and Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Bruno, Cani, Matilla, Wakaso and Hernán Pérez.
Forwards: Rossi and Marco Ruben.
Congratulations to Hernán Pérez on his callup to the first team. Let's hope we get to see him on the pitch tomorrow.
The question for Coach Garrido is of course what to do in defense. If he was trying out a new formation with three central defenders in the Valencia match, it clearly didn't work. Catalá and Cani are available, so I expect we might see something like this:
I suppose the other option is to put Capdevila at left back and Catalá in the center, moving Marchena up to central midfield and putting Borja out on the wing. That would be a better attacking formation, but the central defensive pairing is weaker. And a third approach would be to start Joan Oriol, Matilla, or Capdevila in midfield rather than Wakaso. I've gone for Wakaso since Garrido went with him against Bayer Leverkusen in the away leg, and he seemed to have some energy on Sunday.
Villarreal have never lost in Holland, for what that is worth, and (as we observed last week) have so far followed up poor La Liga performances with excellent ones in the Europa League. Yes, they may be questioning themselves a bit after their loss on Sunday, but Twente have to be questioning themselves as well after last Thursday's match at El Madrigal. Catalá pointed out that the first 20 minutes will be crucial, especially since Twente began well in last week's game but faded badly once Villarreal had scored a couple of goals.
The keys for the game for Villarreal are: don't give away dangerous set pieces, don't let Janko get good aerial service, and break up their passing game in midfield (which is why I think Wakaso might start). Also look to take advantage of Borja's passing, Rossi's speed and overall skill, and Ruben's goal-poaching to create quick counterattacks at the other end. One goal early on through such an attack would surely calm Villarreal's nerves and deflate the Dutch.
We saw in the first leg Twente's defense can be pretty ordinary when put under pressure, and I'll be surprised if Villarreal doesn't score a goal here, even without Nilmar and Santi. We certainly don't need to win this game, just survive it. I think we will do so.
Goal.com predicts 2-1 to the Dutch side; I'll go for 1-1 myself. I'd be happy if our goal comes in the first half to make the entire thing more relaxing for all concerned!