Villarreal are in the semifinals of another cup competition, this time the domestic Copa del Rey. Getting past the semifinals to the finals in knockout competitions has been a challenge; we've made it to the semis of the UEFA Cup, Champions League and Europa League before, but never a final.
Time for that to change, right? Well, maybe, but Villarreal have a major problem to contend with--Barcelona. It seems as if only yesterday (in fact, I think it was less than a month ago) when Barcelona was supposed to be in "crisis", with coach Enrique supposedly not getting along with Leo Messi, resignations in the boardroom following the imposition of a transfer ban, and so forth.
Well, Barcelona does have some problems I suppose, but most of us would be happy to have those problems--especially if we could call on players like Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Unfortunately for Villarreal, Barca have an easy match coming up this weekend (Levante, at home) so have little reason to rest their top players.
And, while Barca have won the cup more than anyone else (26 times), they haven't won it since 2012, which is practically a drought. The blaugrana would really love to come out strong in this first leg and build a commanding lead.
Villarreal: The Submarine is also playing well, or at least did in the 3-2 loss at Barcelona in the league two weeks ago. We play hard against Barcelona, we challenge them well, but in recent matches we have had no luck. Last season a dicey penalty in the away match and two own goals and a banana-fueled comeback left us with no points; this season a late winner and two goals inside two minutes (immediately after we had taken the lead) gave us the same result.
It has to be said Barcelona's defense, which continues to lead the league, has been less than stellar of late, with six goals allowed in their last three matches. However, they've scored 11 (17 in their last four matches) so the big key for Villarreal is going to be keeping Barcelona from scoring 3 or mroe goals, to be honest.
If Villarreal can draw, 2-2, or even lose 2-1, they'll be feeling as though they have a chance to advance. But a 3-1 or 4-1 first leg lead for Barcelona? We haven't beaten Barcelona since March 2008; it's hard to imagine we can suddenly win for the first time in seven years by more than a goal, which is what would be required in the return leg.
The team is Asenjo and Juan Carlos; Mario, Rukavina, Jaume Costa, Víctor Ruiz, Dorado and Musacchio; Bruno, Pina, Jonathan dos Santos, Trigueros, Cheryshev, Moi Gómez and Campbell; Vietto, Gerard Moreno y Giovani.
So who will play? I'm thinking Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz, Jaume Costa as the back five. It gets tougher in midfield; I'll say Moi, J dos, Bruno and Cheryshev, with Vietto and Gio up front.
Prediction: Enrique has said winning is key, and he's not so concerned about keeping a clean sheet. So hey, I have to predict Villarreal to get a goal or two, don't I? I note our sister blog Barca Blaugranes is picking Barca to win 3-1; then again, they said they would win the league match 3-0, and it was a lot closer.
I think this match could be on the knife edge between 2-1/3-1 and 2-2. Maybe we finally catch a break (I know, its Spain, but still...)?? 2-2 I'll say. ENDAVANT VILLARREAL! IN MARCE WE TRUST!!