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Atletico Madrid-Villarreal PREVIEW

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The Yellow Submarine go into the Calderon, with Atleti playing at home for the first time since their ultras were banned from the ground. Expect a lot of media coverage tomorrrow.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

So, Atletico Madrid.  For whatever reason (I'll give a few below) this is the team we at Villarreal USA despise more than any other in La Liga.  That said, I'm full of admiration for what they did last year; Diego Simeone is a great coach and motivator, and what they did last year was amazing--had they survived for one more minute and won the Champions League final, we'd be talking about one of the greatest teams of recent years.  As it is, they are probably one of the least-appreciated La Liga champions, unable to make a significant impact into the Real Madrid-Barcelona discussions.

And yet.  Atleti have had their share of stars who came up in their system, for sure, but it's the rent-a-stars like Thibaut Courtois (two years on loan from Chelsea) and Radamel Falcao (one of Mendes's players always on the move) who leave a bad taste in the mouth.  And, yes, it's sour grapes, but the mattress-makers keep running up huge debts with the Spanish taxman (though they are beginning to reduce the amount now).

But for me, and most Villarreal fans, it's the nature of our 2012 loss to Atleti in El Madrigal that sent us down that's most galling.  Personally, I can't blame Atleti for playing to win, but I can't forgive Diego Godin and other players taunting Villarreal players and team brass after sending us down to the Segunda.   The two teams have continued to do business together, but they held out for top dollar--er,euro--for Sergio Asenjo after we rehabilitated his career, and they chose to send Oliver Torres on loan to Porto rather than return him to Villarreal again.  So, overall I'm not impressed.

Last year, Atleti rode Diego Costa's amazing form and Simeone's fiery motivation for most of the season, just getting over the line.  With Costa gone, no one expected a repeat, but it's been a little hard so far to tell how good Atleti really is.  They added Antoine Griezmann and Mario Manducic to replace Costa, keeper Moya from getafe to replace Courtois, and have a lot of good players--Juanfran, Siquera and ex-Villarreal man Godin in defense, Koke, Arda Turan, Gabi in midfield, and so on.

But how good are Atleti this year?  Hard to tell.  They made it through their Champions League group, overcoming a loss to Olympiaks in the first match, but in the league, while they had a couple of good wins in September (Real Madrid away ad Sevilla at home) in recent matches they've been less than overwhelming.  Still, they have generally gotten the job done, losses at Valencia and Real Sociedad notwithstanding.  Atleti aren't going to overrun you like Real Madrid, nor do they have one star who can carry them like Barca does in Messi.   Still, a win by a goal is a win, and their defense enables them to eke out a good number of those.

Villarreal:  To be honest, looking at the two rosters, the main difference between them is youth and experience.  Villarreal has players like Vietto, Moi and Gerard who can hit the heights, but are still developing.  Atleti has players who are already stars.

Last year, we lost 1-0 in this corresponding fixture; interestingly, Gio and Musacchio were out then too (so was Uche) so we used Manu Trigueros as a second striker with Jeremy Perbet, and Juan Roman started on the right wing, Jokic and Pantic were the fullbacks.

We have a stronger squad this time.  Gerard, Moi and Vietto have all recovered from their bout with Cypriot food, but we are missing Jokic, Musacchio, Gio, Cani , and Hernan Perez (injuries) and Espinosa (coach's decision).  Look for Cheryshev and Moi to play on the wings, a back four of Mario, Gabriel, Ruiz and Jaume Costa, and Vietto and Uche up front.  Asenjo in goal.

Prediction: My gut says 2-1 to Atleti, but I'm hoping 2-1 to Villarreal.  I think it will be that close, and if we win, I guarantee some California "champagne" will be popped open at our house to celebrate.   Endavant!!