Villarreal has been paired with group winners FC Salzburg in the Europa League round of 32. The Yellow Submarine will host the first leg at Estadio El Madrigal on February 19, then travel to Austria for the vuelta one week later. Eibar at home is the league match between the two legs.
There are no easy teams at this point, particularly when finishing as runners-up in the group stage. Just look at the fate of the other Spanish sides: Athletic Bilbao face Torino, while holders Sevilla will have their hands full with our recent rivals Borussia Monchengladbach.
My initial reaction:
Five wins and a draw in the group stage is impressive, but not as much when paired with Celtic (Scotland), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), and Astra Giurgiu (Romania). Salzburg did win in Scotland and triumphed in Vila-real in the 2009 group stage (and did the double at home), so they won't fear an away test. They run roughshod over Austrian competition, albeit having lost five times in a half-season, so Europe will get all of their attention.
Salzburg dropped into the Europa League after losing to Malmo (Sweden) in the Champions League playoff. So they will take this competition seriously and feel they have a good chance to advance against Villarreal.
In terms of personnel, former Barcelona B dynamo Jonathan Soriano leads the line and captains the current Austrian league and cup champions. If you can believe it, he's still only 29! Our old enemy Marc Janko (the one who tried to break Gonzalo's leg) left for Australia in the summer, so that's some comfort. Norwegian hotshot midfielder Valon Berisha is likely the next Salzburg player to leave for big bucks in the summer transfer window.
Salzburg is averaging 3 goals per game in the Austrian league, and they potted 3.5 per game(!) in the Europa League group stage. So don't expect them to close up shop at El Madrigal, and that typically favors Villarreal. Combine that with the relatively comfortable away trip, and the draw could have been worse. Cautious optimism.
I'm off to work, so take it away folks. What do you think of Villarreal's chances against the Red Bull outfit? Endavant!