Villarreal visits the stadium Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Sunday knowing that a win, in a stadium where they have historically struggled, would see off Sevilla's Champions League challenge for good. Borja Valero assures us the team is thinking of Sevilla, not Porto, but with the first leg of the Europa league semifinal on Thursday followed by another must-win home game against Getafe (Team Dubai) next weekend, will we see the all-out attacking lineup we'd expect normally? Or will Garrido rest a few players ahead of the big European clash?
This would be a tough game to handicap anyhow, given that both teams have been inconsistent in La Liga. Sevilla pulled off a huge win at the Mestalla thanks to save after save from backup keeper Javi Varas, then drew at Mallorca and lost at Getafe. At home they've generally been decent of late, but they are pretty banged-up for this one.
And Sevilla has been an up-and-down club all season; despite the talent in their squad, they just haven't had the mental fortitude to keep it together over the long haul. Sevilla did improve their team significantly in the January transfer window, adding Ivan Rakitic and Gary Medel, and shortly afterward allowed wantaway Luis Fabiano to return to Brazil, which was a positive development from the team perspective as well.
The ageless Frederic Kanouté is still there, but has missed the last few games with injury and is not in the squad for this one, so Negredo and Rakitic would appear to be the main scoring threats tomorrow. Jesus Navas is out for the season, and Chilean pit-bull Medel is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card last week. To add to Sevilla's woes, defender Alexis went down with a knee injury in training on Friday--no word how serious yet, but he is not available on Sunday.
As for Villarreal, they have long-term injury issues with Angel and Gonzalo out for the season, but other than that their main concern is the trip to Portugal to face Porto on Thursday, followed by a must win home game against the Dubai Burger King franchise on Sunday. I think Coach Garrido has to be planning his squad for this match with an eye toward what he plans to do in the other two.
When these two clubs met in the league at El Madrigal, Villarreal posted a 1-0 victory with a first-half goal from Nilmar. As I recall Negredo and Capel came off the bench that day and Diego López preserved the victory with a fine save late on--it was a close-run thing. In the Copa del Rey, Villarreal led 3-1 after 55 minutes only for Negredo and Alexis to pull ot a 3-3 draw, and Villarreal essentially conceded defeat in the return leg as injuries and exhaustion took their toll. The 3-0 loss was noteworthy only for (I think) the last appearance of Jozy Altidore on the pitch for Villarreal this year, and a start (!) for Cicinho, his only one.
Goalkeepers: 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.
Borja says he'd like to see more protection from the referees--not surprisingly, as he and Santi were beaten up by Zaragoza on Monday. Hopefully this match will be less physical. I expect Cani and Capdevila to be in the starting lineup, mostly because I don't expect them to start in Portugal on Thursday. Other than that, I have no clue who will play, or what will happen. Will Villarreal compete well and pull out a key win in Sevilla, as they did in San Mames and the Cornellá-El Prat, or will we not? (I'll say no more). Tune in tomorrow to find out.