After the stinker at the Vicente Calderón where the team failed to muster a single shot on goal, fellow relegation strugglers Sporting Gijón visit El Madrigal. Sporting is two points ahead of Villarreal in 18th. Both Granada (19 points) and Racing (20 points) lost their respective games leaving the door open for the winner of this game to climb out of the relagation zone.
The importance of this game cant be over-emphasized for either team. And incredibly enough, these two teams will meet in the last game of the season. Going by how they have done so far, they might be still in the dogfight in Matchday 38.
Sporting is coming off a last gasp victory over Málaga at El Molinón in a game that they lead for the most part only for Málaga to equalize in the 88th minute. But Trejo's goal in the added time gave all three points to Gijonese side and with that result pushed Villarreal to 19th in the La Liga standings. Coach Molina was crestfallen and lost for words in the press conference after the Atleti game. Villarreal hasnt won a game since November.
José Manuel Llaneza came out and gave a long account of the state of the things surrounding Villarreal. He called out the players and said new players could be bought if needed and existing players could be sold if needed. The players themselves had a honest "air-out-everything" meeting among themselves during the week. There are some murmurings that Nilmar received some stick for the lack of production so far but this cannot be confirmed.
Llaneza, who is in charge of player signings is reportedly traveling to Brazil which indicates he might be close to making a deal. He called out on the fans to come out and support the team on Monday night. Every season ticketholder got two free tickets. El Madrigal is sold-out. A rarity for a Monday night 9pm kick-off anywhere in La Liga. Another reason for this offer (as pointed out by Sid in the podcast) could be to avoid the best traveling fans of La Liga, the Sporting fans from filling up all the empty seats.
It seems like so much has happened through the week in the aftermath of the loss against Atlético de Madrid that the game itself seems to have take backseat. The Monday night kick-off doesn't help either. But make no mistake, there is a lot at stake in this game for both teams. Especially Villarreal whose next opponent is FC Barcelona. Three points in this game are of vital importance.
This is the 4th consecutive season of "El Sporting" in the Spanish Primera since their promotion from Segunda División. They have been involved in relegation dogfights in each of their four seasons. The team is run on a shoestring budget, with the universally adored Manuel Preciado as the coach. Preciado was on the brink last season when he was about to be fired but President Juan Manuel Arango and the board kept faith in him and he steered the team to safety ensuring one more season in the Primera.
This season has been tough goings and the team got weaker than last year. They lost attacking midfielder/forward Diego Castro to Getafe and the young and promising leftback José Ángel to Roma. David
Barral with 7 goals is the top scorer of the team followed by Nacho Novo with 3. The other strikers haven't been productive at all. Sporting have scored a measly 18 goals (and still the total 3 more than Villarreal's tally). Miguel de las Cuevas in the midfield has been good in patches but the team overall has a lot of weak spots, just like Villarreal. There is a reason why these two teams are 18th and 19th in the standings. They are just not that good.
David Barral and De la Cuevas vs Villarreal defence:
Sporting normally play in the 4-2-3-1 formation With David Barral as the long striker supported by De las Cuevas, Nacho Novo and Trejo/A.Castro. De las Cuevas will be a handful for Ángel on the rightside of Villarreal. Barral will trouble the shaky backline of the home team. We could see Musacchio alongside Zapata on Monday. If I were Molina, I will do everything to keep De las Cuevas in check.
Andrés Castro and Rivera in the doble-pivot don't strike fear and Villarreal with Bruno & Senna should have the upperhand in the midfield.
Sporting defence vs Ruben & Nilmar:
Sporting defence hasnt been stellar and the return of Marco Ruben from suspension should boost Villarreal's chances of scoring. Ruben is also on a personal 3-game goalscoring streak in the league.
Sporting is a side used to the relegation scrap. Villarreal on the otherhand is not used to this at all. Sporting definitely has an advantage in this aspect. Playing at home behind a full house should help Molina's side. An early goal for the home team could be the tonic that the team needs so badly.
Updated: Zapata & Nilmar left out of the squad
Juan Pablo;Lora-Gregory-Botía-Canella;Rivera-Castro;Trejo-Novo-De las Cuevas;Barral
Vamos Submarino! Endavant Villarreal