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Villareal travel to Elche needing to stay in touch with the top

Villarreal travel to fellow Valencian Community side Elche, currently leading the Segunda Division. A win for the illicitanos would open up an eleven-point lead over the Submarine....

Villarreal travel to league leaders Elche for a key match in the Segunda this weekend. The home side is attempting to return to La Liga for the first time since 1988-89, and the Manuel Martinez Valero stadium will, if not full, atleast have 20,000+ on hand for this encounter.

There will be several hundred Villarreal fans among this number, and one hopes they will be able to visit Elche's gastronomic festival, going on now, or at least stroll among the palm trees in the Palmerar d'Elx, one of the largest groves of palms in the world, before heading over for the match. Seriously, Elche (Elx in Valencian) is a pleasant place--but three points for the Submarine would make it even pleasanter.

Some of you may remember Villarreal played Elche last season, in their pre-season "tournament" for the Trofeo Festa d'Elx. Villarreal won 2-0. The clubs have not met in competitive fixtures for a very long time, the last time being Joaquin Caparros's last match in charge of Villarreal, a 1-0 loss in the 1999/2000 season. Before that, there was a 1-1 draw in 1997-98, also in the Segunda; and way back in 1971-72 a newly-relegated Elche defeated Villarreal 2-0. (We were relegated from the Segunda that season, returning only in 1992-93, by which time the franquiverdes were playing in the Segunda B).

Elche finished sixth and fourth (losing in the playoffs) before sliding to 11th last season while Villarreal loanees Nicki Bille Nielsen and Juan Carlos were with the side. This time round, Elche have a promising young Valencia striker on loan (Carles Gil), and a couple of experienced and well-traveled strikers in Berry Powel and Ferran Corominas (Coro). The ex-Espanyol man scored 18 for Girona last year.

Yet, the key to Elche's success so far this season has been their defense. They've only allowed eight goals in fifteen matches (Villarreal and Girona are next best with 12 apiece) and the only club to score more than ONE goal against them was Ponferradina, the first match of the season--which Elche won 4-2. They have won every home match so far this season, and the last visitors to SCORE in Elche were Sporting, way back on September 15th; it's been 386 minutes (plus injury time) since Elche conceded a goal at home.

A key man for the home side has been midfielder Jordi Xumetra. He scores some but creates plenty more; it's not surprising than in his absence Elche haven't scored more than one goal in any of the last five games. Another midfielder, Miguel Palanca, is out with an injury, and veteran defensive midfielder Alberto Rivera misses this match after picking up a fifth yellow card against Girona.

But Villarreal have a problem too, with Hernan Perez unable to go this week. In his absence, Gerard Moreno, who has scored in bunches for our C and B teams, is called up. No Canteros (still), and Truyols's place is taken by Iniguez. Otherwise, all as usual:

Keepers: Mariño and Juan Carlos.

Defenders: Javi Venta, Mellberg, Musacchio, Joan Oriol, Mario Gaspar, Pablo Íñiguez.

Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Bruno Soriano, Cani, Manu Trigueros, Jaume Costa, Moi Gómez.

Strikers: Uche, Cavenaghi, Pandiani, Gerard Moreno.

There should be plenty of streams around for this one; join us to comment on the action. ENDAVANT!!