What a difference a year makes. When Villarreal met Valencia in the penultimate match of the 2009-2010 season, the Yellow Submarine were battling for the last Europa League place, the team had already announced veterans such as Robert Pires and Javi Venta were being cut loose, and speculation was rampant that stars such as Rossi, Nilmar, and Diego López might be playing their last home match in Villarreal yellow.
Fast forward to the present, and Villarreal is at the end of a season that's been called the best in the team's history--yes, the team finished second in the league once before, and made the semifinals of a European competition once before, but this is the first year the team has been successful in both competitions.
On Sunday the Submarine meets Real Madrid in essentially a meaningless game to both teams. Villarreal have wrapped up fourth place and a trip to the Champions League qualifying round but would have to win both of their last two matches, Valencia losing their last two, to finish third. Real Madrid won't match last year's point total in La Liga, but they will finish second.
Now that the league battle is over, the Madrid-supporting press are focusing on the battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi to lead the league in scoring (the pichichi). Ronaldo has shown incredible form of late--now on 36 or 37 goals depending on who is counting. Messi is on 31, so is unlikely to catch the Madrid man.
When Villarreal travelled to Madrid, Villarreal played a scintillating first half, yet only went in tied 2-2 at the break because of defensive lapses off set pieces. In the second half Madrid's superior strength and depth eventually paid off with a 4-2 win.
Garrido got sent off for complaining about the referee's decisions and gave a scary "I am a hard dude" press conference afterward. And Cani tossed a water bottle in the direction of Mourinho, waving to his son behind the Villarreal bench, though Garrido was at pains to accept Mourinho's explanation and point out that he had no problem with the Madrid coach on the day. But I'm sure he'd like to defeat the 'Special One" this time round.
Villarreal is approaching this return match as a 'thank you' to the fans for their support at El Madrigal this season. Coach Garrido, Sr. Roig, and Diego López have all said they'd like to beat Madrid and play a strong game to reward the fans. Villarreal's overall home record in all competitions this year is 23-4-2, including 8 wins from 8 matches in the Europa League. It has been an exciting year, that's for sure.
Though I wish I didn't have to mention it, there's another subplot as well. Will this be the last time Giuseppe Rossi and Marcos Senna appear for the Yellow Submarine at El Madrigal?
Coach Garrido has left out Wakaso Mubarak this time, bringing Matilla back. Joan Oriol returns, too. It could be these two will get some playing time in the last two matches of the year, because the club really needs to decide whether either will figure in next year's plans; Wakaso clearly will.
Here's the call:
Diego López, Juan Carlos.
Mario, Cicinho, Marchena, Musacchio, Joan Oriol, Catalá, Capdevila.
Borja Valero, Bruno, Senna, Santi Cazorla, Cani, Matilla.
Marco Ruben, Nilmar, Rossi.
I wouldn't be surprised if Ruben starts with Rossi up front; Nilmar's finishing has been way off lately and when these two teams played earlier this year Ruben scored a goal and played well. I would expect Rossi to be substituted at some point so he can receive the cheers of the crowd. A fitting honor for the guy who set the career scoring record for Villarreal this year.
Real Madrid suggest they might be standing pat this summer (well, apart from Sahin, Altintop, Callejón who they've already signed!!) but they may be looking to move some players out during the summer. The Submarine has been linked--though not seriously-- with Esteban Granero and Sergio Canales, but the player Villarreal ought to be interested in to strengthen their defensive midfield is Fernando Gago, who hardly ever plays under Mourinho. Might he get some time on the pitch against us tomorrow?
Villarreal matches up far better against Barcelona than Real Madrid, who are more physical, come at us more directly than the Blaugrana, and pose a greater threat from set pieces (though recall Barca scored their goal at El Madrigal from a corner). And given the difference in team depth, which was a key factor in the first game, I'd probably grit my teeth and pick Madrid to win it if the result actually mattered.
But since it doesn't, and given the "feel-good vibes" in El Madrigal, I'm going to note that the only two teams to beat us at home this year have both played in red and blue stripes (Barcelona and Levante), and on that basis go for a 2-2 draw in this one, with Rossi and one of the midfielders--let's say Cani--to score the goals for Villarreal, and Ronaldo to score two for Madrid.
The fans will welcome the team bus before the match as has become usual for the big games, and there should be quite a party atmosphere in Vila-real tomorrow. Endavant, a triomfar, a guanyar Villarreal!!