A big game at the Mini Estadi tomorrow as the Mini Submarine takes on the illicitanos from Elche, a team we know quite well. Our first team defeated Elche in a preseason friendly, and our loanees Juan Carlos and Nicki Bille are regular starters. Plus, don't forget that we obtained Wakaso Mubarak from Elche--and even Cristóbal, whom we sold to Karpaty, has found his way back to Spanish football, with Elche taking him on loan (he scored his first goal for them last game).
With Elche only three hours away form VIla-real, there will be plenty of fans there to support the franjiverdes, but there will hopefully be a lot of Villarreal fans there as well.
Our opponents: Elche have come close to getting out of the Segunda the last two years, losing in an ill-tempered playoff to Granada last year.
This year's team started off well, but after the Christmas/New Year's break Pepe Bordelas's men have found the going tough. 4-1-8 in 2012, with only one win in their last seven matches, Elche are now five points behind Almeria in the chase for the last promotion playoff place.
Elche should win their next match against Cartagena, you'd think, but then they have games against Depor, Hercules, and Barca B, so this is really a must-win game for them to get their promotion push back on track.
We know we should see Juan Carlos in goal (he's been their only keeper this year), and their defense is anchored by thirty-somethings Sergio Pelegrin and Edu Albácar. It's been decent (35 goals allowed, seventh in the league) but not outstanding.
The Elche attack is similarly good statistically (44 goals, 6th in the Segunda) but these figures are deceiving, because they've been shout out 10 times in 31 matches, and haven't scored more than a goal in their last four games. Angel Rodriguez has 9 goals, but hasn't scored since December, and our loanee Nicki Bille, who was scoring regularly earlier, has only one goal (but six yellow cards!) in his last 10 games.
Coach Bordelas has left out Cristobal, and Linares and Palanca miss out through injury. Here's his squad:
Keepers: Juan Carlos and Leandro.
Defenders: Flaño, Carpio, Héctor Rodas, Etxeita, Pelegrín, Beranger y Albacar.
Midfielders: Xumetra, Mantecón, Paños, Luque, Generelo, Kike Mateo y Cristian.
Strikers: Ángel y Nicki Bille.
Villarreal B: As I commented on the podcast, when you go a man down as quickly as the Min-Submarine did (Lejeune clearly making contact with the ball first, and being harshly sent off) whatever game plan we might have had went out the window, and there was no shame in going down 2-0 to Celta.
The big decision for Coach Velásquez is how to replace Lejeune in the back. I expect we'll see a central pairing of Truyols and Kiko with Jaume Costa and Pere on the flanks, with Trigueros, Porcar, Llorente, Toribio in midfield and Bordas and Joselu up front. Tough luck for Moi Gómez, who earned a start against Celta in Bordas's absence but came off when we needed to sacrifice a striker--but I expect we'll see him at some point of this match. Here is the squad:
Keepers: Diego Mariño y Jorge.
Defenders: Truyols, Pere, Kiko, Jaume Costa y Toño.
Midfielders: Toribio, Edu Ramos, Llorente, Iriome, Moi Gómez, Pedro Vázquez, Manu Trigueros y Lucas Porcar.
Strikers: Juanto, Gerard Bordas y Joselu.
This is going to be an interesting challenge for the young B team. When we played in Elche's cavernous Manuel Martinez Valero stadium in November, Nicki Bille scored two goals and it was a fairly one-sided 3-0 loss. Of course, that was so long ago Chiqui Guerrero even played for us!!
Elche is a good Segunda team, but not in the class of Depor or Celta for sure. I think the key matchups will be Nicki Bille against the Truyols-Kiko center pairing, and in midfield Llorente and Toribio will need to control Xumetra, who tends to make some things happen for them from midfield.
Offensively, Porcar and Trigueros have been impressive, but Joselu needs to break his scoring duck (it's nearly been four months since he's scored!).
Prediction: There aren't many easy picks in the Segunda. Elche is certainly motivated but struggling, and I have a feeling our coach will be ready for this one. I'm going to say 2-1, Mini-Submarine, with Nicki Bille scoring for the visitors and Joselu getting one of our goals. Prove me right, guys!!