It's the battle of the B-teams as our Mini Submarine hosts the Baby Blaugrana at the Mini Estadi. Not great conditions--forecast is for freezing temperatures with some wind.
This will be our first opportunity to see the new-look Villarreal B: Airam, Gullón, Kike Lopez, Dorian Dervite, and a host of others have gone, but we're not short of players by any means. And coming off a 2-0 victory at Hercules last week that moved us out of the relegation places, morale should be good.
The impressive Pere is still out with an injury, so Jaime Costa may have to play at right back again; Florian Lejeune looks to be the fellow who will have to marshal the back four in front of Mariño, whoever is with him. If not for their misfires and Mariño's heroics, we could have been down by a passel of goals at halftime last week; hopefully Coach Velazquez has figured out what went wrong and how to fix it. Of course, we do have Kiko Olivas back from suspension, which might help, or might not. He's been guilty of some high-profile errors this year back there.
Marcos Gullón is gone, so too is Gonzalo Castellani, but we still have some fine midfield players to choose from: Toribio, Llorente, Porcar, Barrientos, Manu Trigueros, Iriome, and new loanee Esteban Orfano (though I wouldn't expect to see him in this game since he just arrived; Velazquez also might be wanting to try him at right back).
Gerard Bordas has returned to bolster the forwards; assuming Joselu remains with the first team, our strike force is Bordas and newcomers Velazquez brought with him from the C team: the other Gerard (Moreno), Moi, and Juanto. An opportunity for the youth to show what they can do, for sure.
Our opponents: I'll take it as given you've heard of Barcelona! Their filial, Barcelona B has been a streaky team this season. They're coming off wins against two of the lesser clubs (Xerez and Huesca) and are sitting mid-table, on 30 points, but before that went five matches without a win.
Injuries to the first team have meant callups for players like Tello, Cuenca and Jonathan Dos Santos, and of course Jonathan Soriano was sold to Red Bull Salzburg. Rodri (ex-Sevilla) is coming off a hat-trick last week against Huesca. He scored 19 goals last year for Sevilla's B team in the Segunda B, saw action in 5 games with the first team, then was sold to Barca for €1.5m in August. So far he leads the team with 7 goals.
Midfielder Rafinha has added five and is another strong talent. So too are defenders Muniesa and Bartra....well, everybody really. Of course, at Barcelona the competition is stiff, and the expectations are high. So are the player valuations. As an example, 22-year old keeper Oier Olazábal JUST signed a new contract, with a buyout clause of €12m (€30m once he gets to the first team; he's considered the heir apparent to Valdés).
However, just as the Mini Submarine has been finding out, talent only carries you so far in the Segunda. You're up against vastly more experienced clubs nearly all the time, and it's hard to pursue the twin goals of player development and team success game in, game out. Players get called up to help out the first team. And the fan support just isn't as large for reserve teams, either, so the home-field advantage is less.
Since 2000, reserve teams from Malaga, Sevilla and Real Madrid have made the jump, only to fall back within two or three years. If Villarreal B can stay up, a fourth year in the Segunda would be quite an achievement.
Recent meetings: This is the first of the return matches in the Segunda; way back on August 27 we won 2-0 at Barcelona's Mini Estadi, with Airam and Porcar providing the goals. Only 6 of the 14 players who saw action for us that day are still with the B team, and of course Coach Molina has moved on as well.
And to go back to the 2010-11 season, you may remember this fixture was played the same day (April 2) as the first-team game at El Madrigal, making a wonderful day of football in Vila-real (even though Gerard Piqué's handled goal in the big match sort of left a sour taste). Barcelona B won that day, 3-2, their A team won 1-0, and Sporting Gijon won 1-0 in the Bernabeu. A culé trifecta!
That time Villarreal had a 2-1 lead but couldn't hold it, Barcelona's superior depth making the difference; that might be as important this time. On the other hand, we are playing on Friday night, and we never do well then. If the weather were warmer I'd be expecting more goals, but as it is....
Prediction: Villarreal B 1 , Barcelona B 1