Segunda A hopefuls Zaragoza will be stepping onto the fabled grass of Estadio El Madrigal tomorrow evening, in what is quickly becoming a must-win for Villarreal should the club hope to confirm a place in next year's Champions League sometime soon. Real Zaragoza are in 18th, looking to be a good candidate for relegation this year, but have as of late shown a bit of a spark (read: uh-oh). In their last six, Zaragoza have found themselves tops over Bilbao, Valencia (I would make fun of Valencia here for losing 4-0 to Zaragoza, but I don't think I could pull it off after last week), and Getafe. During that time, they also managed a 1-0 defeat at the Camp Nou. Looking at things a bit more broadly, though, shows that Villarreal should be pleased to be facing them at home. Zaragoza have managed a single win out of 15 tries away from their home stadium this year, a stat that breaks in Villarreal's favor.
Villarreal tend to play poorly against the lower-table sides in La Liga, although this is less of a valid comparison these days because Villarreal have tended to play poorly against just about everyone in La Liga of late. I won't repeat the long string of relegation-zone or relegation-threatened teams that have trumped Villarreal in the last couple of months, because it just hurts too much, but I think we can all agree that the list is (1) long, (2) embarrassing, and (3) not exactly reflective of the stature we like to think that Villarreal holds.
That will all be forgotten, however, if Villarreal can secure a Champions League spot (and yes, 4th counts) for next year. With only seven matches to go, this might seem a bit premature, but I refer you to the second paragraph of this entry for why Villarreal should have been able to wrap that up about 4 weeks ago. Villarreal were helped with their La Liga goals this weekend when Sevilla fell to Getafe and the football geniuses over at Atlético Madrid tied with Espanyol. The Basque contingent did us no favors, however, as Osasuna played dead while a 10-man Athletic scored twice after going down a man, including one in injury time, to pull out 3 points and move themselves within 6 of the Yellow Submarine. Villarreal can push that margin back up to a comfortable 9 with a victory tomorrow, but without one, the club is really going to have to look closely at its priorities as the Europa semis come calling.
While he has not made it back into the squad just yet, Villarreal will be absolutely pulsating with the news that Marcos Senna is starting back to work with the full squad this week. As our friends jackson and Acqua were quick to point out, without Senna, Villarreal were in desperate need of a "Senna-type CM." Well, bringing Senna back will do that wish one better. Villarreal's late dilemma of choosing whether to start Marchena in central midfield, or back in defense, will be effectively solved if Senna can start putting some matches in. Further, and perhaps more importantly, our waning possession numbers will see a boost if Senna is anything more than a shadow of his pre-injury self.
Villarreal's squad for the match:
Keepers: Diego López and Juan Carlos.
Defenders: Mario, Musacchio, Catalá, Capdevila, Marchena, Cicinho and Joan Oriol.
Midfielders: Borja Valero, Bruno, Santi Cazorla, Matilla, Cani and Wakaso.
Forwards: Rossi, Nilmar and Marco Ruben.
You know things are bad when Juan Carlos Garrido has to include Cicinho in the call for a full squad. But ignoring that, it is good to see Matilla back in the fold again. While he arguably might not be there had Gonzalo not gone down to injury, it is a good sign that Garrido has the confidence to put him back in the side after being able to watch Matilla go a full 90 in midweek. The typical rotation has been: (a) Week X: Matilla in the squad, not called; (b) Week Y: Matilla in the squad, gets to play a bit; (c) Week Z: Matilla back to the doghouse. So, a second go after getting a lot of match time in can only be a good thing.
No more predictions from me until next season, since my 2-2 prediction last week made me look more foolish than normal. ENDAVANT!