Villarreal-Sevilla: the two teams play three times in ten days. Here's our March schedule:
March 12 Villarreal vs Sevilla El Madrigal
March 15 Almeria vs Villarreal (away)
March 19 Sevilla vs Villarreal (away)
March 22 Villarreal vs Sevilla El Madrigal
It's very strange, isn't it! I suppose we return home after the Almeria match, since it's the early game on the Sunday, then fly to Andalusia again on the 18th.
Getting to the CL: some statistical analysis
Remember the winner of the Europa League gets a Champions League place (it's added to those already allocated, so if we won, we'd become a fifth Spanish CL team). We'd have to win four matches to get that place, and if we figure we have a 50% chance of winning each match, we'd have a 6% chance of winning the thing. That's conservative, though--I figure we'd be favorites in some of those ties and to be honest, if we get past Sevilla I'd give us even odds to get to the flnal, anyway--so I'd bump up our chances to win to between 10-15%.
What about catching Valencia for fourth and getting to the CL that way? Well, we could do it, sure, but to be honest it probably requires us to defeat Valencia in the Mestalla (April 4). I feel less confident about winning that tie than I do about winning any Europa League tie....maybe a 20-30% chance of winning there at best. And if we do win, maybe there is a 50-50 chance we make up the remaining points and finish fourth. So that looks like about a 10-15% chance, again. Statistics say the two chances are equal.
But it's not all statistics....
The Europa League offers several advantages apart from a CL place. There's money, of course---we already have earned just under €3m from the competition proper, and TV moneys get added to that. We've probably earned around €5.5-6m already if you include the TV pool, but getting to the final gets you another €4m (6.5m if you win the thing).
And apart from money, there's pride and prestige--even more important. Villarreal have come close before (semifinals) and it would be a really great thing if we could make it to the semis again, much less get to a final. Unlike Sevilla, who won the Europa League last year (and won it twice in a row when it was the UEFA Cup, so it's not like even that would be a new experience!), the value of getting to a final would be incalculable.
This weekend could decide a lot....
Marcelino has been adamant about rotating players, and clearly prioritized the Salzburg match over the Madrid one--note his comment afterward that "we won't see the same players against Madrid". This week, our midweek priority is the second leg of the Copa semifinal at home Wednesday. Regardless of whether we win or lose that, you'd have to think we would be looking to rest some players on Sunday against Celta, since we want to put out our strongest lineup at El Madrigal for the first leg of the Europa League.
The other key match on Sunday is Atletico-Valencia, which takes place after ours. Should Valencia win, they would leapfrog Atleti into third, and then (a) we would be between 8 and 11 points behind Valencia; (b) 6 to 9 points behind Atleti. And we still have Atleti to play in El Madrigal. Should Atleti win, Valencia would be 5 to 8 points ahead, and Atleti 9 to 12 points ahead. A draw would leave both at least six or seven points ahead of us depending on our result.
I'm liking the Europa League priority more and more, especially if our 'second lineup' can play like they did Sunday.