Villarreal play yet another important road match on Sunday, looking for three points against a Mirandes side battling to stay in the Segunda Division a year after winning promotion to it. Last year the plucky lads from the north country were the toast of the town, winning promotion and going on a cup run that saw Villarreal, Racing and Espanyol dispatched before Athletic Bilbao ended the fairytale.
This year? It's been a different story. Spain's favorite banker and leader of last year's club, Pablo Infante, has had a number of injuries this season, and Segunda defenses have been a tough nut to crack for the rojillos. In 31 matches Mirandes have only found the net 23 times--that's 16 goals less than the Submarine, and we think we've had problems scoring this season! Mirandes's defense has been strong--only Elche, Villarreal, and Numancia have given up fewer goals--and that's how they are (barely) above the relegation zone.
It hasn't really mattered whether home and away--12 goals at home, 11 on the road--the difference has been that away they've given up twice as many goals (including four to Girona last week).
Of course, these two teams have some recent history. Last season Villarreal were drawn against Mirandes in the Copa del Rey, managed to draw the away leg 1-1 from a Borja Valero goal, and then played one of the poorest games in recent years, going down 2-0 in the return leg at El Madrigal, the aforementioned Pablo coming off the bench to score two second-half goals. Immediately after that game Juan Carlos Garrido was fired and...well, you know the rest.
Mirandes's coach, Carlos Pouso, has said his side is essentially facing a Primera side this week and it will be a difficult match for the home side. Former Betis keeper Iñaki Goitia and a veteran backline (you may remember Garmendia, Caneda and Aitor Blanco from last season) are going to be called up on to keep a clean sheet, and perhaps Diaz de Cerio (their leading scorer, with seven) or Pablo can steal one for the home side. (Coach Pouso says Pablo may play--it would be his first action in over a month).
Villarreal: It's hard to complain about a streak of nine games without a loss, but given that four of those nine have been draws, and officiating has been--shall we say--a bone of contention in a couple of those matches, the Submarine supporters are not totally happy, nor full of optimism as they approach this match. Especially since we could and should have picked up three points at home last week and didn't.
Mirandés played us tough in El Madrigal in late October, though two Uche goals gave us a win. This looks like a dangerous match, in a small, compact ground, against a team that will be physical and direct. Sound familiar?
Here is the team call, per the official website:
- Keepers: Juan Carlos, Mariño.
- Defenders: Mario, Jaume Costa, Musacchio, Dorado, Mellberg.
- Midfielders: Marcos Senna, Bruno, Canteros, Trigueros, Aquino, Juanma, Cani.
Strikers: Perbet, Jonathan Pereira, Uche, Gerard Moreno.
Marcelino isn't able to count on Farinós this week, who is out with an injury. Maybe that accounts for some of his subpar performances the last couple of weeks--let's hope so. And no place for the impressive (at least in practice, we're told) Javi Venta. Evidently Javier Aquino is OK after the Mexico-USA match, as he's included in the call. So too are Juanma and Gerard Moreno, who combined on our late goal last week to spare the blushes at home.
No callup this week for Moi Gómez, who has played a lot this season. That might be tactical, or also might be Marcelino feeling he hasn't been playing as well of late (remember our commenters were sharply divided over his performance against Recre).
My expectation is we'll see Mellberg on the bench of the five defenders, and a midfield of Cani, Senna, Bruno and Aquino. Up front? Well, Perbet, after a strong start, seems to have been afflicted with the Villarreal propensity for missing easy chances, so it could be Uche and Jony starting again, though I might go for Perbet and Uche one more time. Or, who knows, maybe Marcelino keeps Sidarth happy and starts Jony, Uche and Perbet, with Cani dropping to the bench.
My prediction: I think the key could be whether Pablo is able to play for Mirandes at all. His return would give them a big spark. I'll go for a 1-1 draw but to be honest I could see a home win about as easily as I can an away win--I just don't see a lot of goals in this one so a defensive mistake or a golazo from nowhere could make the difference.
Table watch: This week the top seven teams in the table play against sides in the bottom half, mostly bottom third, and mostly on the road. Las Palmas have the easiest task, hosting Guadalajara on Saturday. Three early Sunday matches have Hercules hosting Ponferradina, Huesca welcoming Almeria, and Racing playing Elche. Alcorcon and Girona play away after our match on Sunday, against Real Murcia and Numancia respectively.
Based on recent form, it looks like a bunch of away wins could be in store, though I have high hopes for Huesca taking at least a point this week. Anything from Murcia and Numancia would be gravy. But most importantly, we need to get three points ourselves! ENDAVANT!