Villarreal picked up a big three points on Monday, but we can't rest on our laurels. Our visitors, Real Betis are, to say the least, an enigma this season. Last year they copped a Europa League spot, finishing seventh (one point behind the ineligible Malaga). This year? The Seville side have won only three games in La Liga (yeah, one was against us, but that was a truly underserved win), and are bottom of the table, eleven points away from safety and six points behind the team immediately above them, Rayo Vallecano.
And yet, amazingly enough, they're still active in Europe, making it to the final 16 of the Europa League on Thursday with an away win against Rubin Kazan. They will meet Sevilla in the next round!
The coach(es): Pepe Mel, the tremendously popular coach who led them to promotion and later to Europe, was canned in early December, replaced by ex-Villarreal man Juan Carlos Garrido. It would be interesting to see the welcome Garrido would receive in El Madrigal, but he lasted only a month and a half. The president who had hired him was also gone, and the club turmoil has continued since. (Mel, incidentally, landed a job with West Bromwich Albion right away, but he's now rumored to be on the hotseat there).
The current Betis coach is Gabriel Calderón, an ex-Argentine international who managed various clubs in the Middle East, latterly Bahrain. His first home match was successful--a 2-0 victory over Espanyol--but so far those are the only points they've achieved in five matches. Their most recent loss was at home to Athletic Club in a match where (sigh) the referee, Jesus Gíl, was the main story. Two Betis players were sent off, a penalty wasn't given to them, one was given to Athletic, and the Betis website published a video showing the referee's "errors". Villarreal fans, remembering the poor job Carlos Delgado did in the Villamarin in September, might say "what goes around comes around".
The players: Rubén Castro and Jorge Molina up front, Joan Verdu and Salva Sevilla in midfield, plus ex-Villarreal B star Matilla, and a defense with veterans like Javi Chica--it doesn't seem like a roster destined for the Segunda. But they've scored only 20 goals in 25 matches, last in the league, and given up 55, second only to attack-at-all-costs Rayo's 59 and 12 more than any other club.
Will Betis take heart from the Europa League win in midweek, or will they be tired from the match and travel? For that matter, will they play hard on the road, or roll over as they did against Valencia earlier this month? It's hard to know, but they will be without defender Perquis and midfielder Lorenzo Reyes, both sent off last match.
Villarreal: As has been standard of late, we don't really know who is going to be able to play. Chechu Dorado and Gio dos Santos had some niggles in training on Thursday, and Chechu is definitely out; Cani and Oliver Torres are returning to fitness; Mateo Musacchio is apparently okay, as is Sergio Asenjo, hero of the Espanyol win. Javier Aquino is presumably able to return after missing two matches.
Jokic and Gabriel performed so well on Monday that I'm thinking we may field an unchanged back four, and Pina and Bruno (overlooked yet again for national team selection today, I'm afraid) will probably make up the pivote. We may suddenly have an excess of wingers--Moi, Oliver, Nahuel, Cani, Juan Roman--but apart from figuring Cani won't play, I have no idea about the others.
If Gio isn't able to go, do we see Uche and Perbet, or Jony and Perbet, or Juan Roman as a second striker, or.....? Maybe the team sheet, when it comes out, will give us some clues.
We have had some big away wins this season followed by poor home performances against teams we should beat--and Marcelino has already reminded everyone how difficult we found it to beat Xerez when they came a-calling from the bottom of the table during our promotion run. Hopefully the crowd in El Madrigal will cheer our boys on to victory!
Prediction: We may make this match hard for ourselves, though I hope not; Betis has been terrible on the road all year, so I'm going with 2-0 to Villarreal, or maybe 3-1.
Couple of last comments: If you scroll down to the SB Nation videos, you can see the promotional video the club put out for the 'celebration of football' on Sunday--football, the passion that unites us, the hashtag says in Spanish.
Unfortunately, this is the time slot that isn't televised by beinSport, so if you're in the US, get up early and find streams via the usual sources. East-coaster Sidarth will run the gamethread! ENDAVANT VILLARREAL!