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Preview and Gamethread: Real Sociedad vs. Villarreal (Game 1 of 3)

The first leg of our Round of 16 Copa del Rey clash against Real Sociedad. By a quirk of the sechdule, they're the only club we haven't played yet in La Liga, and we have three matches in quick succession against them.

Aquino in action against Rayo
Aquino in action against Rayo
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Donostia is the site of the most attractive Copa del Rey round of 16 clash. Real Sociedad hosts Villarreal, with the sides’ league match sandwiched in between. Mexico will be all ears, with Carlos Vela taking on Giovani dos Santos and Javier Aquino.

A best-of-three begins this evening at Anoeta in beautiful San Sebastián. The last two sides to finish in fourth place in La Liga clash in the first leg of the round of 16 in the 2013-14 Copa de su Majestad el Rey. Real Sociedad versus Villarreal – should be a cracker of a series.

Tactics. Both teams play football. The hosts deploy a 4-3-3 with a focus on controlling the middle of the park, so Bruno Soriano and his colleague in the doble pivote will have their hands full. Rubén Pardo (the canterano who has replaced Real Madrid’s Asier Illarramendi) is the key man in midfield, while French dynamo Antoine Griezmann and (once and future?) Mexican international Carlos Vela electrify the wings. Expect only one to start from the outset today – not so on Monday. Bojan Jokic and Aleksandar Pantic (assuming he plays at right and not center back) would be well-advised to manage their offensive forays.

Lineups. Undoubtedly the league match is most important, so managers Jagoba Arrasate and Marcelino García Toral will choose today’s XIs accordingly. With the sides separated by one point in the league table entering the last round of the primera vuelta, and Athletic Bilbao within striking distance in fourth place, Monday’s encounter at El Madrigal is pivotal. But with a quarterfinal tie looming against the Racing Santander versus Almería winner (the sides drew 1-1 yesterday in Cantabria), cup glory beckons for the blue-and-whites and yellows.

Squad. Gabriel Paulista returns after his surprise omission in Vallecas, while Edu Ramos comes in for midfield cover. Chechu Dorado and Hernán Perez miss out due to injuries suffered on Monday.
Expect Juan Carlos to return for cup duty in goal, Jokic and Pantic on the wings, Gabriel in the middle, Bruno in the midfield, Aquino on the wing, and Gio up front. Perbet may get another opportunity (at Jony’s expense) after his double in the league. Enough changes for you?

My expected Villarreal XI: J. Carlos; Pantic, Gabriel, Musacchio, Jokic; Pina, Bruno; Aquino, Moi; Gio, Perbet.

My expected Villarreal bench: Asenjo; Mario, Costa; Ramos, Manu; Uche, Jony.

Prediction. 2-1 to the hosts, with all to play for next week (twice) at El Madrigal.

The match begins at 1:30 pm Eastern Time and airs on BeIN Sports en Español. Expect plenty of streams, particularly from Mexico, with three members of the expected World Cup side in action. Endavant Villarreal!