El Madrigal in Vila-real, Spain. The site of Champions League and Europa League semifinals. And the clinching of a subcampeonato in La Liga. But tomorrow may top them all.
Tomorrow, the prodigal son returns. Santi Cazorla, a product of Villarreal's cantera, returns to his home stadium. But for the first time, he will be wearing the away team's kit. The powder blue of Málaga, not the yellow of Villarreal.
The Spanish international and leader of Málaga's new project has enjoyed general success in his first season in Andalucía. Cazorla is again a fixture in Vicente del Bosque's Furia Roja, and the boquerones sit in a Champions League position as the season winds down. At the least, European football should return to La Rosaleda.
And let's not forget the (second) return of Manuel Pellegrini. Pellegrini put the Yellow Submarine and Vila-real (literally) on Spanish and European maps with the attractive use of the doble pivote and interiores in his typical 4-2-2-2 formation. With recent players like Cazorla and Marcos Senna, the Chilean engineer steered the club in its most successful five-year period (2004-09). Thank you, Santi and el ingeniero.
Pleasantries aside, there's a match to be won tomorrow evening. And Villarreal desperately needs three points to ease relegation worries. The gap to 18th-placed Zaragoza is four points (pending the maños' result away to Sevilla), but Sporting has already won this round. So we have two pursuers; three, if Racing Santander wins concurrently with our match.
What we know about the squad, as of this hour: Joan Oriol and Ángel López are suspended, and Mario Gaspar is doubtful due to injury. Jaume Costa is suspended down a level, so he's ruled out at left back. I expect Cristián Zapata at right back, Gonzalo Rodríguez to continue in central defense, and maybe Bruno Soriano at left back. Carlos Marchena or Gonzalo Castellani (or even Jonathan de Guzmán(!)) should jump into the doble pivote. If Senna is healthy, that is.
My expected XI (4-2-2-2): D. López; Zapata, Gonzalo, Musacchio, Bruno; Senna, de Guzmán; Borja, Cani; Martinuccio, Nilmar.
Villarreal has only lost twice at home in this La Liga campaign: to Getafe (under Molina) and Levante (under Garrido). No reason that record should change tomorrow. Allen, take it away. Endavant Villarreal!