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Villarreal vs. Racing: Now or Never

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Pape Diop: a hard worker, but lacking a bit of quality. Like his club?
Pape Diop: a hard worker, but lacking a bit of quality. Like his club?

Win and stay up. That's just about the equation for Villarreal on Sunday afternoon at El Madrigal. Bottom side Racing Santander comes to town (without their manager, sadly), and the Yellow Submarine is seven points clear of danger with only five matches left (after this round). Welcome back, Marcos Gullón.

After a season of frustration, back-to-back home wins would allow the El Madrigal faithful to relax a bit. Not too much until safety is assured, but our last-gasp victory over Málaga was a real shot in the arm. It's time to end our year-long flirtation with disaster.

Lineups:

Miguel Ángel Lotina's 19-man squad (expect Gonzalo Castellani to be omitted):

Keepers: D. López, César.
Defenders: Gonzalo, Musacchio, Catalá, Oriol, Zapata, Ángel, Marchena.
Midfielders: Bruno, Senna, Borja, H. Pérez, Castellani, Cani, Camuñas.
Strikers: Nilmar, Martinuccio, Joselu.

Ángel López returns from suspension and should start at right back (still no Mario Gaspar), while Joselu Moreno is available due to Marco Ruben's last-minute injury. Another striker down. Joselu did play a half-hour for the 'B' team in Almería, but I suspect the 48-hour rule has an injury exception. Finally, no room for Wakaso Mubarak and Jonathan de Guzmán.

Scouting Report:

Racing has spent only one season in the Segunda División since 1993-94. Expect that run to come to an end. Regardless, Villarreal must ensure that the montañeses' survival does not come at its expense.

The Cantabrians are poor, both on and off the pitch (thanks to Ahsan Ali Syed). Racing has the fewest points both at home and away (tied with Villarreal!) and has scored a paltry 23 goals in 32 matches. Strikers Christian Stuani and Khouma Babacar are talented enough to trouble us, but they are often starved for service. Set pieces, as are often the case against Villarreal, will be the opposition's main threats.

Prediction:

Both sides need three points, and Racing is particularly desperate. But the visitors' lack of quality should doom them, both on the night and the year. 3-1 to Villarreal.