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FC Porto--Villarreal CF preview

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    We've spread ourselves about a bit here at VillarrealUSA getting ready for this big game, what with a recap of Porto's road to the semifinals, and a look back at Villarreal's European semifinal adventures.  And if you haven't already seen it, take a look at aupasubmarino's fanpost, complete with lots of chalkboard diagrams and detailed explanations of what Porto does and how they do it.  Great stuff.  So now it's time for the preview....

     The unfortunate thing is one of these two teams will lose at this stage, and not make it to the final in Dublin.  The bookmakers have made Porto 1-to-2 favorites to progress to the final, Villarreal 7-5.  That's fine with me; Villarreal play better when they feel "disrespected" a little bit, and after the Sevilla debacle on Sunday they come into this one angry.  But can the Yellow Submarine beat Porto?

One positive omen-- Villarreal played 4-3-3 teams in the last two rounds, and defeated them handily.  FC Twente simply didn't have the quality, especially in defense, to keep Villarreal from slicing their back four to pieces.  Leverkusen was a better team than Twente, certainly, but even so had trouble translating their excellent midfield play into many high-quality scoring opportunities--and their defense was breached by Villarreal repeatedly as well.

    Porto strike me as somewhat like Bayer Leverkusen--they play a 4-3-3 and simply overpower their domestic opponents with attacking football.  But unlike Leverkusen, who dominated possession against Villarreal but didn't really have a strong, lethal finisher up front,  Porto play more of a counter-attacking style, and they have Hulk--who has been a handful for teams all year.  Not only does he score a lot, but he plays something of a Rossi role, too, often setting the opportunity up for Falcao to finish off (Falcao is the leading scorer in the Europa League this year).  And Varela up front is a good finisher as well.

   Porto is also a physical side--they tend to just overpower and beat up on teams a lot.  That's more reminiscent of Napoli, I would argue, than the last two teams we've faced.  Villarreal squeaked by the Italians partly because Napoli were too reliant on Edinson Cavani up front, and we had a bit of luck with Giuseppe Rossi's deflected goal too.  But over the course of the two matches, Villarreal was able to hold its own in the battles that counted.

     On paper Porto strike me as a side that gives Villarreal matchup problems galore.  We are undersized compared to Porto, and we tend to get knocked off the ball a lot.  Porto counterattacks quickly, and we don't have a quick back line.  Their midfielders also are quite willing to shoot from outside the box, and we often give teams too much opportunity to do so.  They are dangerous from set pieces, while we....you get the idea.

    On the other hand, Porto's back four is not the strongest, and they've lost one of their regulars, Juan Fucile, who broke his collarbone in Porto's last Europa League match.  And a key man for Villarreal will be Borja Valero--it was no surprise he was rested on Sunday.  Against Napoli Borja provided the spark, and, assuming he plays (he didn't train with the team on Tuesday) I think he will against Porto also.

   I can't tel how significant Fucile's loss will be; I can't imagine it looms as large as Gonzalo's.  Not only did Gonza play well in defense and marshal the back four, his presence gave Garrido the opportunity to slide Marchena up to midfield to support Bruno.  Without him, Villarreal's tactical options are more limited.

  Garrido has to decide whether to start Catalá or Capdevila in the back four--it comes down to fresh legs versus experience, and Catalá has been favored of late. Otherwise,it's the M boys-- Musacchio, Marchena, Mario in front of Lopez.

 The midfield will clearly have Bruno; Garrido has liked Wakaso on the road in Europe, and he is growing in confidence all the time, so I expect he will start.  If Borja can go, he and Santi will be the other two, if not Cani probably comes in. And unlike in Germany, I think Nilmar and Rossi will both be in the lineup--we need our best goalscorers out there.  Ruben and Matilla are probably the other names that could see some action, and Hernán Pérez might be a wildcard too--he did well against Twente so might get a few minutes late.

  I keep thinking back to Villarreal's game in the Bernabeu.  The Submarine lost, yes, but they competed very well for about 70 minutes before wilting under that pressure.   Porto are a fine team, but they don't have Cristiano Ronaldo, and they are not Real Madrid.  Villarreal tend to up their game against the quality opposition, and here is a chance to do it again.

 One thing to remember: Porto have been even better on the road than they have at home.  And Villarreal have won their last two Europa League matches on the road.  So I don't think this will be a "grind out the 0-0 draw on the road, then beat them at home" matchup.  Unless the away leg is dreadfully one-sided, I think however it turns out both teams will still have confidence heading to El Madrigal.

The Rocky Road To Dublin, 1,2,3,4,5....

Five keys for Villarreal to progress:

(1) Defend well as a unit. The back four has to play well together, and players like Catala and Musacchio can't get outmuscled by Hulk.  And the other defenders can't get sucked out of position.  Diego Lopez has to be a commanding presence in his area.

(2) Set pieces.  Don't give many up, and defend the ones you do give up well.  And scoring with one of our own    would be terrific!

(3) Don't give up possession cheaply.  Mario has a tendency to wander down the right and give the ball away with some low-percentage pass.  That can't happen against Porto.    We're smaller, especially with players like Santi in midfield, but we have to be strong--we can't allow Porto to muscle players off the ball easily.

(4) Make opportunities count.  Porto's defense, especially without Fucile, isn't rock-solid by any means.  The more Villarreal can create chances and convert them, the more self-doubt and frustration will creep in to the favored side.

(5) Fortune favors the bold.  Remember back to the Napoli match--yes, Rossi's game-winner was a bit lucky, but it was set up by excellent pressing by Nilmar, winning a ball back at the centre circle and starting the counterattack.  Keep working hard and good things will happen.

 Finally, there's an intangible-- mental toughness.  When Villarreal drew Napoli in the round of 32, many expected Napoli to bounce the Yellow Submarine from the competition.  They didn't.  Many of the same pundits thought Bayer Leverkusen would beat Villarreal.  They didn't.  And some thought that against FC Twente,  Villarreal would surely "bottle it", unable to handle the pressure of being favorite.  They didn't.

The pressure is on Porto now.  They are expected to win.  Yet, Villarreal has played more games against tougher opposition this season than have the Dragons.  If Villarreal can call on that experience and elevate their game on the next two Thursdays, I believe the Yellow Submarine will find a way to make it all the way down that rocky road to Dublin and into the final.  Endavant Villarreal!!   A guanyar!!