Villarreal have won their last nine Europa League home fixtures, and following a well-played draw on the road against German opposition, we now welcome Apollon Limassol of Cyprus to El Madrigal.
Apollon have qualified for the group stage of the Europa League for the second year in succession, the first Cypriot club to do this. Last year's campaign didn't go that well--they finished third in their group with 5 points from their 6 matches--but they did have a couple of decent away performances, including a 2-1 loss to Lazio and a 1-0 win over Legia Warsaw.
The Cypriot side are currently leading the group after their 3-2 win over Zurich, but on paper look to be the third-best team in this group as well. They will definitely miss ex-Villarreal cantera man Marcos Gullon, who is suspended for this match. Their danger man looks to be ex-Sporting Gijón player Gaston Sangoy, who scored a couple of goals against Villarreal in La Liga. The other Apollon player with La Liga experience is Fabrice Olinga, who scored aged 16 for Malaga a couple of years back. He's still only 18.
Limassol also have a Spanish player (ex-Barca trainee, I believe)--Hugo Lopez. Don't be ashamed if you haven't heard of him--he never got above the Segunda B. He's an attacking midfielder, 26 years old, who after leaving Spain in 2011 played in Portugal (second division), Bulgaria, and Israel before heading to Cyprus.
How will they try to play us? Probably they'll concede possession, hope to hit us with a quick counter using Sangoy, or look for some set-piece magic. They played a 4-3-3 at home against Zurich, but I would be surprised if they line up that way against us--if they concede numbers in midfield to us, I don't think they'll have a lot of success.
Villarreal: The injuries in the back four have reached crisis point now that Musacchio is out.
The 18 selected for the match are:
- Asenjo and Juan Carlos.
- Mario, Rukavina, Adrián Marín, Gabriel, Dorado and Víctor Ruiz
- Trigueros, Bruno, Jonathan dos Santos, Cheryshev, Espinosa y Cani.
- Uche, Giovani, Gerard y Vietto.
With a match against Celta on Sunday, how much do we tweak the team? I'm going for:
Asenjo; Mario, Ruiz, Gabriel, Marin; Moi, J dos Santos, Bruno, Cheryshev; Uche and Vietto.
Note that Pina is not in the call, while Dorado is, so I think that means Bruno plays in midfield and either Dorado and Ruiz are in the middle of defense, with Gabriel or Marin on the left, or it's as I said above, and it probably depends on Dorado's physical condition and whether Marce thinks he wants Gabriel to play two matches in four days.
Prediction: Hard to say given our unfamiliarity with the opponent. I'll say 3-1 to Villarreal, it could be more, it could be less. Anything less than three points here would be unacceptable, even given our injury situation.