"Come with me to the sea at Vigo". So wrote the Galician Martin Codax in the 1200s, and tomorrow Villarreal's B team will take that advice. Or at least come within a mile or so of the sea, because that's how close the Balaídos stadium is to Vigo Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Vigo is in the northwest of Spain, south of Santiago de Compostela and close to the Portuguese border. It's around a ten-hour drive from Vila-real, so I doubt we'll have many Villarreal supporters in attendance, especially with the first team hosting Espanyol. The game will be on TV in Spain, so streams should be available here. Unfortunately, with this game beginning at 2 pm EDT, and the Espanyol match at 3:30 pm EDT, some small degree of overlap appears unavoidable. Poor planning yet again, LFP!!
The town: Modern-day Vigo is largely a 19th and 20th-century creation. In part this is due to the fact that for most of its history Vigo was a fairly sleepy fishing port, though its slumber tended to be interrupted periodically by raids on the town. Sir Francis Drake came through in the 1580s, occupied the town, and then burned it, and in 1702 an English fleet took on a number of Spanish and French ships in the Battle of Vigo Bay, destroying most all of the ships and capturing a good deal of silver which the ships had brought from South America. The English Treasury struck special silver coins with "Vigo" on them, and there was even a country dance composed in honor of the great victory!
Fast forward to today--Vigo is a town of roughly 300,000 people, with a good deal of industry built around the port (Vigo is still the largest fishing port in Europe and home to the European Fisheries Commission). And apart from fish, Vigo also exports cars. There is a Citroen plant here that has been, at least, Galicia's largest employer. That's why Vigo's football club has had "Citroen" on its shirts since 1985, the longest-running shirt sponsorship deal in Spanish football. (You wondered when I was going to get to the football, right?)
The club: If you've only been following Spanish football for a few years, you might think of Celta Vigo only as a Segunda team, but you shouldn't. Much like Villarreal (oddly enough, both teams were founded in March 1923), Celta has played in the Champions League, in the UEFA Cup, and has competed well in La Liga, though without a lot of trophies to show for their efforts.
Celta (the name refers to the Celts who lived in Galicia, and was chosen when the team formed via the merger of two clubs in 1923) spent the 1939-59 period in the first division, then bounced between divisions a bit, but for a period of about 15 years beginning in 1992 Los Celtiñas were as attractive a side in Spain as any.
For six seasons (1997 to 2003) the sky blues never finished lower than seventh in the league, with a fourth place finish in 2002-03 qualifying them for the Champions League. Their coach? A certain Miguel Ángel Lotina. And though Celta qualified for the CL Round of 16, they were knocked out by Arsenal, and their form in La Liga collapsed, with the team being relegated.
They bounced back, spent another couple of seasons in the Primera, but were relegated again in 2007, and the club nearly folded due to high debts, avoiding liquidation in part by selling off players. One of those, the last player to be capped for Spain with Celta, was Ángel López, sold to Villarreal at the very end of the summer 2007 transfer window.
Since then the team has gradually been rebuilt, relying more on its youth system and lower-priced players, and made the playoffs last year but were eliminated on penalties by Granada in the first round. This is their fifth consecutive season in the Segunda, their longest apart from that 1959-69 period, and hopes are high in Vigo that the celeste can win direct promotion this year.
This year's team: On paper, Celta has the best attacking group in the Segunda by far, and they've shown it on the pitch: Celta leads the Segunda in goals with 56.
Their leading scorer (12 goals) is youth product Iago Aspas, whom Villarreal tried to obtain last summer. He's 24 years old, and two 26-year-olds, David Rodriguez and Chilean international Fabián Orellana (the latter on loan from Granada) have added nine and seven goals, respectively. There's also former Villarreal B player Joan Tomás (5 goals) and Segunda veterans Enrique De Lucas and Mario Bermejo have chipped in another 14 between them.
With one of the best defenses in the division as well, it's no surprise Celta are in second place. But last year, this team looked well placed for direct promotion too, but went through a string of 16 games from March to the end of the season with only two wins.
Celta had run off seven straight wins this spring, but a loss to Las Palmas followed by a draw in Huesca last week have the Celta fans wondering if this is the start of another late-season swoon. There should be a reasonable crowd at the rambling Balaídos stadium, but they may be a bit nervous if things don't go their way early. Still, if Celta can get through their next three home games-- us, Deportivo La Coruña, and Barcelona B, together with a tough away match at Hércules, their remaining matches look easier.
Most everyone is available for them except first-choice defender Oier. Expect to see former Villarreal B man Natxo Insa on the bench, with Bustos and Alex López joining Aspas and Enrique De Lucas (I'll assume) in midfield, and probably Orellana and Rodriguez up front. Coach Paco Herrera will probably bring on Bermejo and Tomás at some point, though. And another youth product, Yoel, will start in goal.
Villarreal B: With four wins and a draw in their last five matches, Villarreal B and their coach Julio Velázquez are suddenly the talk of the Segunda. The mini-submarine will be without Gerard Bordas, who injured an ankle in training this week, and Pablo Íñiguez, still recovering from his hamstring injury. Otherwise, though, all is as usual:
Keepers: Diego Mariño and Jorge.
Defenders: Joan Truyols, Pere Martínez, Kiko Olivas, Florian Lejeune, Jaume Costa and Toño.
Midfielders: Toribio, Edu Ramos, Llorente, Iriome, Moisés Gómez, Pedro Vázquez, Manu Trigueros and Lucas Porcar.
Strikers: Juanto and Joselu Moreno.
Velázquez seems to have settled on a first-choice back four of Costa, Kiko, Lejeune and Truyols, with Toribio and Llorente in the doble pivote, and Trigueros and Porcar as attacking midfielders. Joselu is sure to start up front, but without Bordas, there's going to be a spot for one of our recently promoted youngsters. Moi Gómez? Iriome? or even former Celta B player Vázquez? I don't see Juanto starting with Joselu, but I suppose that could happen.
One thing to remember: in the second half, Celta has outscored teams 34-11. When these two teams met in October, the Mini-Submarine led 2-1 before two goals in the last 10 minutes from Iago Aspas gave Celta the win.
Villarreal B played very well on the road at Depor, and I expect a good game from them this time. I have to think in the end Celta's experience and attacking edge will pay off, though if Porcar and Trigueros can combine to create some magic, Joselu recovers his early-season form, and the pressure starts to get to the home team, anything can happen.
Prediction: I'd love to predict another road win for us, but I'm going to go with 2-1 to Celta. I'll be glad to be proven wrong, though I do hope Celta can make it out of the Segunda this year. I would like to see them back with the big boys!