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Villarreal-Astana: Europa League Preview

Villarreal host the Kazakhstan club in El Madrigal, comfortably on top in the tie thanks to a 3-0 win in Astana. But Marcelino says we cannot take our opponents lightly, nor can we assume qualification for the group stage is assured. We still need to play well here.

The Big Vase.
The Big Vase.
Harold Cunningham

Villarreal welcome FC Astana to El Madrigal Thursday (11.45 AM Pacific time here in the US, 2.45 PM eastern), defending what should be a comfortable 3-0 lead from the first leg.  Nonetheless, Marcelino cautions all is not yet won here, and it's incumbent on us to play well and progress on to the group stage.

The 18 players chosen for the tie are the following:

  • Keepers: Asenjo y Juan Carlos.
  • Defenders: Mario, Adrián Marín (dorsal 28), Jaume Costa, Gabriel, Musacchio y Dorado.
  • Midfielders: Trigueros, Bruno, Pina, Moi Gómez, Espinosa, Nahuel y Cheryshev.
  • Strikers: Gerard, Giovani y Vietto.

Some discussion on twitter because the official site says Uche's omission is because of injury, but Javi Mata says it's not really anything and he will be available for Barcelona.  Victor Ruiz, Rukavina, Cani and Jonathan dos Santos are all omitted from the squad by decision of Marcelino.  Jokic's omission is injury-related.

Jonathan dos Santos seems to be the one player who is seeing very little time of our recent signings.  Not sure if anything should be read into that at this point, though.

Astana:  They haven't played since we last met, and of course this time it's they who have the long plane flight to get here (I loved the video of jet-lagged Villarreal players posing for photos at the Astana airport and hotel).

Since I didn't see the first match, and have never seen Astana play, here are some fun facts about a couple  of their squad:

Their leading scorer is Foxi Kéthévoama, a 28 year-old striker originally from the Central African Republic.  Somehow he found his way to Hungary, where he played for six years, before joining Astana in 2012.  he has the distinction of scoring two goals against Botswana in June 2012, the CAR's first-ever win in a World Cup qualifier.

Roger Cañas is a 24 year-old midfielder, from Medellin, Colombia.  He must be one of the few footballlers who failed a medical exam for his new club because he had only one kidney (this happened when he signed for Metalurh Donetsk).  Astana evidently have no such concerns, because they immediately signed him when the Ukrainian side backed out.

The Kazakh league's regular season finished at the beginning of August, and FC Astana were third (three away wins in 11 matches, btw).  They are now in a "championship round" to figure out who qualifies for next year's Champions League and Europa League slots--not too many leagues try to compete with Belgium for the title of "most convoluted championship", but I guess the Kazakhstan league is one of them.

Which means that among other things, it's hard to know whether they will put out their best XI, or have an eye toward domestic success.  We do know their first-choice keeper, Nedad Eric is out through in jury; defender Anicic misses this match after getting a red card in the last one.

Finally, the Astana team includes 6 players who have recently featured for the Kazakhstan national side.  They failed to qualify for the next Euro Championships or last World Cup, of course.

Prediction:  Villarreal 3 Astana 1.

Streams should be available, as the match is being televised in Spain.

Europa League draw update, with Champions League qualifiers concluded: Villarreal, should we qualify, will be in Pot #1; Sevilla, Napoli, Fiorentina and Tottenham will be as well.  Glasgow Celtic will be in pot #2, so could be a group phase opponent; so too could our old friends Club Brugge and PAOK, who are also in the second pot.  Thanks as always to Bert Kassies for keeping track of all this.