Villarreal come off a big win at Cordoba, looking to post two wins in a row for the first time since....anybody remember? Way back in September, when the Submarine followed a narrow home win against Guadalajara with a win in Ponferradina courtesy of a Walter Pandiani goal.
Pandiani is gone now, so is Cavenaghi, who started that game, and of course so is Julio Velasquez. New man Marcelino and a host of additions in January have done well (three wins and three draws in the last six games) but, as it seems has happened so often this season, Villarreal comes up against a team at the top of its form.
Sporting Gijon were relegated along with Villarreal but began the season poorly. Ex-Rayo coach Jose Sandoval took over in October and, though the Asturians showed an astonishing ability to generate 1-1 draws through much of the winter, they are now playing much better, and are coming off a big away win at Alcorcon and a home win versus Girona. Those results have moved them away from the relegation zone, but to have any chance of returning to the Primera at the first attempt they need to win this game.
Sporting will be without two players, Senagalese striker Mendy (injured) and defensive midfielder Lora, who picked up his fifth yellow card last match. They have many players who will be familiar from last year in the Primera, including defender Canella (who we were supposedly close to buying a couple of years back), the Argentinian duo of midfielder Oscar Trejo and striker Gaston Sangoy, and Croatian striker Mate Bilic, who was not so good last year but has eight goals so far this season. They've added a couple of useful players in ex-Barcelona B midfielder Carlos Carmona and ex-Celta Vigo striker David Rodriguez. But in spite of his eight goals, the team hasn't really gotten going, at least not as much as one might expect given such a talented roster and the support the Asturians have, both at home and away.
Gijon is a club most everyone likes, in part because of the style the late Maniolo Preciado showed when managing them. They never backed down from anyone, and of course they achieved a rare victory in the Bernabeu in April 2011. Last year, though, was a disaster. Preciado was relieved of his duties in late January following a string of poor results, and with him the soul of the team seemed to have gone. Javier Clemente finally got things at the Molinon together late in the season as Gijon won 4 of 6, but they were so far back they needed to run the table at that point, and losses to Villarreal and Malaga doomed them. Of course, we encountered our own version of doom....
History between the clubs: We've had some fun battles the last few years. In the 2010-11 we drew 1-1 there on a gift penalty in injury time, it has to be said, after Gonzalo had been sent off and Gijon had converted a penalty. However, these things have a way of coming around, and sure enough, in El Madrigal a nine-man Sporting drew 1-1 with the Submarine, courtesy of a gift penalty in injury time!
Last year Villarreal won 3-0 at El Madrigal and then 3-2 in Gijon, a rare away win most of us thought would ensure we stayed up. Didn't work out so well. This year we lost the away fixture 2-0 in a game where the yellows dominated early but Bruno's red card in the 35th minute changed things. David Rodriguez scored shortly afterward and Sangoy added a goal late to complete the misery.
A REMINDER: This game starts at 7AM EST in the US, will be on Canal + so there should be streams. Remember to set your clocks forward, folks.
Our squad: About as strong as can be, except for Cani missing. Injury doubt Farinos and Dorado are both included, and Hernan Perez and Marcos Senna return.
Keepers: Juan Carlos, Diego Mariño.
Defenders: Mario, Joan Oriol, Jaume Costa, Musacchio, Dorado, Mellberg.
Midfielders: Bruno, Farinós, Marcos Senna, Moi Gómez, Aquino, Trigueros, Hernán Pérez.
Strikers: Jonathan Pereira, Uche, Perbet.
This match: Villarreal celebrates its 90th anniversary on Sunday, so a win would be rather nice! Not to mention the three points!! SEMPRE ENDAVANT!!!