Having reached the Copa del Rey semifinals for the first time, Villarreal will now try to overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg in Barcelona. The blaugrana haven't been humbled in knockout competitions very often, at least not by teams not named Bayern Munich, and logic would suggest they'll prevail this time, but this preview isn't about logic.
Marcelino has taken a lot of flak--unfairly so--for his squad rotations, when the reality is, without them we would never be competing in three competitions at this stage of the season. Villarreal's confidence is high following a draw in the Bernabeu against Madrid (only the fourth point we've gotten there in 15 years) and a strong away win against SAlzburg in the Europa League to get to the round of 16 there.
To be honest, Villarreal have had horrible luck against Barcelona the last few years. In the first leg of this match, we lost Bruno to a leg injury, and were unlucky to concede three goals. Our league encounters were tight, but again we came away with nothing. Last year we led Barca 2-0 before two own goals and a Messi special in the last 30 minutes gave them a 3-2 win in El Madrigal. Will this be another one of those games, or will the luck finally go our way for once?
Villarreal should put out a strong lineup--Vietto and Uche up front, probably; Cheryshev, Pina, Trigueros and Jonathan dos Santos in midfield; Mario, Musacchio, Ruiz and Jaume Costa as the back four in front of Asenjo. Most of these players--the fullbacks and keeper being the exceptions--either didn't play at all on Sunday or saw less than thirty minutes of action.
Barcelona defeated Granada a day earlier, and rested Busquets; they should bring their strongest lineup as well, with Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar all expected to feature up front. On paper, of course they have more talent, but in front of 20,000 fans, with a first-ever Copa final on the line, can Villarreal pull the shock?
The Submarine players, to a man, are confident. And after all, they have nothing to lose. Barcelona, defending a two-goal lead, are expected to advance.
Keys to the game:
(1) Villarreal must keep Barca off the scoresheet. It's happened five times this year, and nearly happened in El Madrigal at the end of August. The corollary is Villarreal needs to score first, hopefully early.
(2) Maintain discipline and confidence. Not easy to do against Barcelona, but Villarreal will have to soak up long periods of Barcelona possession. Giving away free kicks around the box, or penalties, just can't happen.
(3) Take advantage of opportunities. Vietto and whoever plays up front with him (I expect Uche) will do a lot of running when they can. It's important to convert a high percentage of the chances we have.
(4) Notwithstanding (1) and (2), Villarreal have to see more of the ball than they did at the Camp Nou. Barca had 74% possession, and Villarreal had only three shots on target, Trigueros's goal coming partly due to a ter Stegen error. Villarreal need to get more shots, and more possession, than in the first leg.
(5) Barca is at their most dangerous when we've just scored. We saw this in the first leg, and also in the league match at the Camp Nou. We cannot allow a quick goal.
(6) If we are achieving our goal, we need to continue to be confident--we can't become overly defensive, we can't become nervous. Si se puede.
Prediction: I think Villarreal will win this leg. Will it be enough to see us through to the final? 2-0 or 2-1? Or something else? I don't know, but I have confidence we will give our best effort. Endavant Villarreal!!!