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Villarreal host Fiorentina in the Ceramica Trophy match on Thursday

Some former Submarino Amarillo stars return to El Madrigal--in purple.

Claudio Villa

So tomorrow is the "Trofeu de la Cerámica Mahou 5 Estrellas"match, to give it its full (sponsored) title. For those of you who don't know, it is usually, if not always, the only home friendly Villarreal plays before the season starts. Sr. Roig began the tradition in 2000, when we played Paris Saint Germain; often the opposition has been Italian or French clubs.

In 2010 we invited Besiktas, who had ex-Villarreal star Nihat in their ranks at the time, so maybe the same thought was behind the invite to Fiorentina this year. And to be honest they may be the best team to visit El Madrigal this season apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid, so it should be an excellent test for the Submarine.

The trophy is of course named for the main industry in Vila-real and the towns around, the manufacture of ceramic tiles; as for the trophy itself, it is always designed (and I presume executed) by Juan Ripollés, an internationally-known artist living in the area (and a big Villarreal fan). It's always unique, to say the least!

Our opponents: Fiorentina finished fourth in Serie A last season, qualifying for a Europa Legaue berth, after Milan, shall we say, staged an impressive, somewhat dubious and certainly expected comeback in their last game of the season to snatch the final Champions League place away form the Viola. So, Giuseppe Rossi, Borja Valero, and Gonzalo Rodriguez will be in familiar territory when they begin their European adventure later this month.

Fiorentina are looking to do even better this term, what with Napoli selling Cavani and all. The purple club sold Stefan Jovetic to Man City for €25m, and used that money to buy Mario Gomez from Bayern, Josip Ilicic, an attacking midfielder, from Palermo, as well as a couple of other players (including ex-Malaga man Joaquin). Plus, they parted ways with the 36-year old Luca Toni (he went on a free to Hellas Verona).

Expect them to line up in a 4-3-3, but they can play three at the back as well in a 3-5-2. Word from our sister SBN site is Borja will probably start, Gonzalo and Rossi not.

Villarreal: Marcelino has used these friendlies to get the team playing at the sort of tempo he wants and has worked on team fitness, without worrying too much about the scoreboard. Some matches have been glorified practice sessions, with a different XI each half; expect this game to be more like the Brighton match though. We'll take it reasonably seriously and won't make that many subs.

With the departure of Pedro Rios (caught in a numbers game as an attacking midfielder), Villarreal's roster is almost complete, though Camuñas still--presumably--is getting a paycheck for no work and the club is still trying to move him.

Moi Gomez has returned from international duty. I still think he might get loaned out to a Segunda team, but he should get some playing time in this game.

Jeremy Perbet has had a disappointing preseason, and Uche has missed most of it with injuries. I still have this dream Sr. Roig is going to announce some surprise striker acquisition tomorrow, but more likely if we're signing anyone it will be a central defender. We have asked Barcelona to loan us Marc Barta (with an option to buy) and we are apparently still interested in Paulista.

Final plotlines: Both teams figure this game should be a clue as to how good they are or could be this season. And what sort of response will the returning Villarreal stars get? Some blame Borja for not hauling us out of relegation danger, some blame Rossi for not sticking around to get us back to the Primera and/or not making a bigger deal of his departure, and some blame Gonzalo for being part of the relegated side too. But I think, and hope, most will remember the great times in yellow and applaud. We'll see.

TV/Radio: Radio Vila-real should cover this, but Canal 9 is televising it in the Comunitat Valenciana so there may be some streams available. Villarreal's official site says ESPN is broadcasting it int he USA as well but probably via ESPN Deportes on line, I would expect.