After a largely positive debut at El Madrigal against local rival Valencia, coach José Francisco Molina takes his Yellow Submarine to the Vicente Calderón, where he played some of the best years of his playing career. Molina faces one of his former teams, who are incidentally managed by another Atlético great and David Beckham's 'best friend', Diego "El Cholo" Simeone. These two were teammates in the historic double of Atlético Madrid in 95-96.
The vibe in the Villarreal camp changed from cautious (when Molina's appointment as coach was announced) to cautiously positive after the Valencia game. But it is nothing compared to the the level of optimism or media hype surrounding the arrival of Simeone to Atleti. He is seen as the messiah that will bring back Atleti's lost glory. His first game, a lackluster 0-0 draw at Málaga didn't seem to dampen spirits one bit.
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Both teams have been largely disappointing in the La Liga season so far. Both have fired their coaches at the Christmas break. But the similarities between the two teams end there. While this season has been an aberration of sorts for efficiently managed Villarreal, the carousel of coaches and madness surrounding them is par for the course with Atleti. They have changed their coach an alarming 49 times in the past 24 years.
In season or in the off-season, the drama at Atleti is more riveting than a Bollywood movie. It is a pity that some of the most passionate fans in La Liga are treated so badly by their ownership duo of Enrique Cerezo and Miguel Angel Gil Marín. This summer was tumultous, to say the least. Kun Agüero's ugly and drawn out affair to leave the club highlights the ham-handed approach of the club's management.
Having said that, they did manage to bring some very talented players into the fold. Spanish U-21 striker Adrián López has been very good so far this season. Radamel Falcao García came from FC Porto in a complicated deal involving the ever powerful super-agent Jorge Mendes. And they also signed the journeyman Brazilian playmaker Diego. On the flip side, José Antonio Reyes had enough of the madness and moved to Sevilla a couple of weeks ago.
Teams and Tactics
This is an important game for Molina and Villarreal. Placed 18th in the table, in the relegation places, there is a lot of nervousness in the faithful fans in Vila-real and elsewhere. It was easily palpable towards the end of the game against Valencia. They will look to take a result back home from this game. Villarreal haven't won away in La Liga since March 2011. They have to stop that record from getting more dubious sooner than later.
They will be boosted by the fact that steady and hardworking midfielder Bruno Soriano is cleared to play after the Comite de Competición rescinded the phantom yellow card he received in the last match. But Marco Ruben is not that lucky: he will serve the suspension for the 5th yellow and will be unavailable.
Apart from the question of who will support Nilmar as the second striker, the rest of the team should be very similar to last week's XI.
Atleti, on the other hand, will miss a couple of starting defenders in Perea and Domínguez. A rejigged back line is expected. Even canterano Javi Manquillo might start, but most likely we will see Juanfran at right back, and Miranda will replace Dominguez. Falcao and Diego will be the keys up front, with Gabi and Tiago in the doble pivote.
Falcao vs. Villarreal defense: This will be key because the last time Villarreal played against Falcao-- when he was at Porto-- he scored four goals in two games. Villarreal's defense is very suspect. If Villarreal hopes to get a result, it needs to neutralize the aerial and ground threat of Falcao.
While Falcao might draw all the attention, Diego Ribas is the creative dynamo of Atleti. Bruno's job is to shadow Diego and marginalize him as much as possible.
Nilmar & Borja Valero vs. Atleti defense: This would be a favorable match-up for Villarreal if Nilmar were in rhythm, but he is not at the moment. He had a few moments against Valencia, but the team needs more consistency over 90 minutes.
Intangibles: Home debut of El Cholo & early start
The noon kick-off, combined with Simeone's home debut, means the Calderón will be full, noisy, and rocking. An early goal for the home team could snowball into a big win for Atleti. On the contrary, if Villarreal can weather the initial storm and take the crowd out of the mix, they can get a result.
Overall, the two teams have a lot of question marks all over the pitch. The team that commits fewer errors will get the desired result.
Atlético Madrid : 4-2-3-1
Courtois; Filipe Luis-Miranda-Godín-Juanfran; Gabi-Tiago; Salvio-Diego-Mario; Falcao.
Villarreal : 4-4-2/4-2-2-2
Diego López; Oriol-Musacchio-Zapata-Ángel; Bruno-Senna; Borja-Cani; Nilmar-Hernán Pérez.