Things have not looking too good for the Submarine this week, but Villarreal will be looking to change that as they prepare to take on Espanyol. The Catalans have not exactly taken the league by storm--they're currently resting in 13th place-- while Villarreal are clinging on to 8th. We have lost our last 3 consecutive matches (two in the league, one in Europa League) and we cannot afford a fourth.
Like us, they didn't lose in a boring 1-0 loss, but lose they did last week, to an Elche club that had two players sent off but still managed a 2-1 victory. Espanyol are a side that struggles with finances, seems to sell off a lot of decent players, but remain a solid strong side that causes many richer clubs problems.
We have done pretty well against them in recent years, but the fixtures have always been very competitive and physical. Last year we won there 2-1 with goals from Moi and Jeremy Perbet either side of halftime, but a late Sergio Garcia goal kept it interesting until the end.
Espanyol's problem has been scoring goals: they have only 10 and have conceded 12; we have scored 14 and also conceded 12 (5 in the last two league games). They have some experienced talent up front (Stuani, Sergio Garcia and Felipe Caicedo).
We need to bring the confidence we had last season into play, quite simply. It has been severally dented.
It would be great to see our youth given a chance. The run up to Christmas is a perfect opportunity to get a bit of form, and our strikers have been somewhat lost of late. Gio seems to be out of sorts recently, though he is still coming back from injury, and Uche has been unimpressive of late.
I will be hoping to see Vietto back in the starting lineup. I have huge respect for our manager, but he has to make serious changes. The idea of just relying on players' reputation rather than form does not have merit in this situation.
I expect Moi to be dropped along with Gio. Manu also didn’t shine last match so maybe we will see J dos Santos or even Pina after his goal against Zurich. Quite why Moi started over Espinosa against Valencia I will never know. Maybe Marcelino was saving him for the Europe match, but a player in his form should be starting.
Cani is unfortunately still out after missing the trip to Zurich, and of course Hernán Pérez, Jokic and Musacchio are all injured still.
My prediction is Villarreal 1 Espanyol 0.
Sergio Garcia is exactly the kind of guy we don't need to be facing right now, given how many headed goals we've given up of late, and of Stuani's five goals, all but one have come in the last ten minutes of matches, so we can't just sit back to defend a lead late the way we tried to against Sevilla. Espanyol have shut out opponents in their last three home matches, too. I'm going to go for a 1-1 draw, but to be honest I don't know what to expect from us--either in terms of lineup or commitment. As Marcelino said, we need to get our intensity back.