Villarreal visit Germany--North Rhine-Westphalia, to be more precise -- to open their Europa League campaign. Their opponents, Borussia Munchengladbach, were the German team of the 1970's, for those of us who can remember that far back--they attacked with speed and skill and won the German league five times, the UEFA Cup twice, and lost in the European Cup final to Liverpool. Not too shabby.
Relegated on a couple of occasions since then, Die Fohlen barely stayed up in 2010-11 but since then have done well, finishing fourth, eighth and sixth in the Bundesliga the last three years.
The stadium: Borussia-Park was opened in 2004 and will be full for this match, one expects. It holds a little over 46,000 for international matches.
Our opponents: They're received their nickname "The Foals" because of the 1970's team with a fast, aggressive playing style, but it might apply now as well. They have 5 points in 3 matches from the Bundesliga so far, and easily qualified for the group stage by whacking Sarajevo.
They have a number of players who should be familiar to you: Alvaro Dominguez used to play center back for Atletico Madrid, but moved to Gladbach for €8m in 2012. USA international Fabian Johnson was considerably cheaper, arriving on a free from Hoffenheim this summer, and has seen some action at right back and even midfield. Martin Stranzl, 34, is the 'old man' of the defense, at centerback, and Wendt and Jahntschke have played at left and right back, respectively. (The latter may be out for this match through injury).
Gladbach plays either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1, but regardless of how you consider it, two key players are World Cup winner Christoph Kramer and Swiss international Granit Xhaka. They typically try to overpower opposing clubs while controlling possession, and set up players like Hahn and Raffael or the lone striker (Kruse or Hrgota).
Overall, this is a team that loves to control play and use its speed to make things happen.
Form: Good, coming off a 4-1 thumping of Schalke that owed a lot to the opposition's defensive frailties. But in their first home match it took an injury time equalizer from Kramer to split the points with Stuttgart, and they drew 0-0 away to Freiburg, so don't be swayed by one match. it's early yet.
Villarreal: Of course, we might say that applies to us too. Certainly the speed and creativity of players like Trigueros, Cheryshev and Cani will be important in Gio dos Santos's absence. If Ike Uche is able to start, look for the Nigerian and Luciano Vietto to try to use their own speed to trouble Gladbach.
The key battle though is going to be Bruno and whomever (Trigueros, I guess) against Shaka and Kramer. If the Submarine can neutralize those two, they have a chance to do well. And whoever plays at left back, whether Gabriel or Rukavina, has got to neutralize the dangerous Hahn.
Form: Pretty good, though we haven't scored in our last two league matches. We don't have a lethal finisher, so need to create bunches of chances. We haven't done that. On the other hand, we have done well defensively and keeper Asenjo looks great.
Prediction: Overall, this is a match neither team has to win, but both would like to. That should make for a much more entertaining match than last weekend's Granada encounter. I'll go for a 2-1 Gladbach win largely because of our injuries and the fact we're playing away, but I think Marcelino is going to ultimately be more concerned with the effort than the final score--this time.
UPDATE: Our lineup is Asenjo, Mario, Musacchio, Víctor Ruiz, Gabriel; Bruno, Pina, Cani, Moi Gómez, Cheryshev, Vietto.
Not starting Uche, nor Gerard, and Pina partnering Bruno in midfield. Gabriel at LB.
Gladbach lineup is Sommer; Jantschke, Stranzl, Dominguez, Wendt; Kramer, Xhaka, Herrmann, Johnson; Kruse, Hrgota.
Pretty strong, I'd say.