Two wins in a row. 10 points out of the last 12. The flowing football and the slick passing is returning to El Madrigal, slowly but surely. It has been quick change of fortunes for the Yellow Submarine. They looked dead in water back in December and again after the loss to Atlético Madrid. The team hasn't looked back ever since. Currently sitting 15th, Villarreal are 6 points away from a Champions League berth and 3 points above relegation. Things are very tight in the "Other La Liga"(La Liga minus the Big Two).
The big question now is, Can the Submarine make it 3 wins in a row? Boy wouldn't that be awesome? I cant remember when was the last time they won 3 league games in a row but surely not in the recent past. And to do that they have to beat Mallorca who have declared we are their sworn enemies after the incident with UEFA debarring them from Europa League of 2010/11 for financial irregularities and Villarreal benefiting from their expulsion. Chris of realmallorca.co.uk xplains some of it in detail here.
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Off-field issues apart, Mallorca have gone through a coaching change mid-season. In fact former coach Michael Laudrup was fired after a 2-0 loss at El Madrigal early on in the season. Joaquin Caparros has taken over and has the team going in the right direction. They had a decent run in the Copa del Rey where they lost to Athletic Club in the quarter finals. Mallorca is only one point behind us in the standings. That makes this game very crucial for both teams. The winners would take a huge step to move further away from the drop zone and the loser might find themselves right in the drop zone depending on results in other games. Another 6-ponter type game.
Last time Villarreal visited La Palma, it was the first experimental noon kick-off in La Liga. The game ended in a 0-0 draw and was well attended as the emotions were still running high. We might see some of those same emotions this Sunday. I expect a big crowd and Mallorca to come out strong out of the gate and try to use some of the crowd support to intimidate Villarreal.
Tactics and Match-ups
Mallorca is another team that has scored fewer goals than Villarreal so far in the season. Out of the 19 goals they have scored, only 6 have come from open play. Set-pieces (7) and Penalties (5) are the major contributors to their goal total. The Israeli Tomer Hemed with 6 is their top-scorer, 3 of which are from penalties. They are strong in the air with Captain Ivan Ramís leading the way in that department. Gonzalo "Chori" Castro is their best player by a country mile. He caused Villarreal a few problems in the game at El Madrigal. Experience keeper Dudu Aouate is very stable normally but is error-prone.
Mallorca has been playing in a 4-4-2 formation of late with Chori Castro as an attacking midfielder in the most advanced positon behind Tomer Hemed and Alvaro/Ogunjimi. Ivan Ramís marshalls the back four along side Chico with fullbacks Cenderos on the right and Caceres on the left. Fernando Tissone and Tomas Pina play in the double pivot.
Villarreal will welcome back midfield dynamo Bruno after a suspension last week. Nilmar picked up yet another injury and will not travel to Mallorca and will most likely be out for the next home game against Athletic. It is unfortunate a he did show some glimpses of form last week. In his absence either Camuñas or Martinuccio will start along side Marco Ruben upfront. Musacchio should be back in the line-up after missing last game due to tonsillitis and Gonzalo should be back from suspension.
The Bruno and Senna duo is much better than anything that Mallorca can put in the midfield. One of the reasons why Mallorca has only 6 goals from open play is because Chori Castro doesnt have much support and oppositions try to shade him away from the danger zones. I expect Bruno to cover him in this game. If Villarreal can keep Castro in check, Mallorca will struggle to sustain possession in the attacking third of the pitch and wont be able to create many goal scoring chances.
Set-pieces and aerial duels:
Mallorca has the edge in this one. They are strong in air and match-up well with the weakness of Villarreal defending set-pieces and the aerial game in general.
High intensity and physical play are some of the features of Joaquin Caparros's teams. This Mallorca is no different. The battle between Marco Ruben and Ivan Ramís will be a fascinating one because both relish physical battles.
Both Ángel and Oriol should have a good game this weekend, especially Oriol.
Overall, if Villarreal doesn't concede too many set-pieces, it will be hard for Mallorca to score. The result of this game will depend a lot on how that aspect shapes up.
Mallorca - 4-4-2 Likely XI
Aouate; Cáceres-Ramís-Chico-Cenderos; Castro-Tissone-Pina-Pereira; Alvaro-Hemed
Villarreal - 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 Likely XI
Lopez; Oriol-Musacchio-Gonzalo-Ángel; Senna-Bruno; Borja-Cani; Ruben-Camuñas
1-1. If this were a home game, Villarreal would win it comfortably. But this is an away game plus the crowd factor makes it the most hostile environment the Submarine has to deal with so far. A point from this game is a good result.
Endavant Villarreal! Vamos Submarino!
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