Last season, Villarreal whacked Real Sociedad 5-1 at El Madrigal in mid-January in the league. That was sandwiched by a 0-0 draw in the Copa at Anoeta, and then we lost the return leg 1-0 at home to exit the cup.
Well, this season we met in the league slightly earlier, and we won by four goals again, this time 4-0 in early December. I don't think we were that concerned last time at exiting the cup when we did, but this year should be different, for two reasons. First, the Copa draw is pretty kind to us; if we get past La Real, we face the winner of Almeria-Getafe. Sure, the semifinal is likely to be against Barca, Atleti, or Madrid, but that might be fun.
The second reason is, we are on course to finish at least in the top seven in the league, and the top six are guaranteed European places. The seventh gets one if the two finalists of the Copa have already qualified, and looking at the clubs still active, Sociedad and Athletic Club are the two teams who could put together a cup run to the final and win a place in Europe instead of that seventh-placed team. So, eliminating La Real now would improve our chances of European qualification (though we should have our sights set higher than seventh, for sure!).
La Real: Our opponents are coming off a victory against Barcelona, though the best shot all night on the Barca goal came from Jordi Alba, and the blaugrana team selection was curious to say the least. It wasn't necessarily done in great style, but it was a great win and moves them away from the relegation zone.
The arrival of David Moyes has improved things, for sure. His predecessor looked out of his depth and certainly La Real's defense has been tightened up since Moyes took charge. Goals continue to be a problem; Carlos Vela has accounted for six of their 18 league goals, but he's likely to rest this match. Expect the Icelandic international Finnbogason to get a chance.
Villarreal: Goals have been flowing of late; the only team to hold us to one goal in our last 10 matches was Atletico, and we won that 1-0. Still, the key in this one might be defense: avoiding an away goal would be helpful.
The team call is:
- keepers: Juan Carlos, Asenjo.
- Defenders: Mario, Rukavina, Jaume Costa, Víctor Ruiz, Dorado, Gabriel.
- Midfielders: Pina, Bruno, Jonathan, Moi Gómez, Espinosa, Cheryshev.
- Strikers: Uche, Gerard, Vietto y Giovani.
Musacchio is not quite ready to come back; in addition to long-term absentees Jokic and Perez, Cani is missing (officially due to injury), Adrian Marin is unable to go due to a muscular "overload". Manu Trigueros is the player who is left off for "technical reasons', then.