Villarreal return to action Thursday with a home match against Espanyol. Marcelino said rotations for the sake of rotations are done; now it's all about playing who he thinks are the best players at this point in time. We're still without Cheryshev and Bruno, and how we fare in the next couple of matches might determine how quickly we try to bring those guys back. If we're comfortably ahead of the pack chasing us for sixth, but Sevilla and Valencia keep winning, do you think we might give these guys a little more time to recover?
Espanyol: It's been a disappointing season for the pericos. Not in the league, necessarily, as midtable is pretty much what they would have expected, but after defeating Valencia in the Copa they would've loved to defeat Athletic and play an all-Barcelona final.
Espanyol are pretty average: ninth in goals scored, tenth in goals allowed. With the exception of losses at the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu, they haven't lose by more than two goals all year; with the exception of a 3-0 home win against Almeria, they haven't won by more than two goals either.
Their up-front group is led by Sergio Garcia, who has had some trouble with injuries this year but still has 10 goals. He's the emotional talisman of this team. Christian Stuani (9) and Felipe Caicedo (6) are their other strikers.
Kiko Casilla has played very well in goal when I've seen him. Espanyol's defense will be weakened by Fuentes being suspended (though Alvaro Gonzalez returns), and midfielder Salva Sevilla is suspended as well.
Villarreal: Unlike Espanyol, the Yellows have something to play for, needing a win to go further clear of Malaga and those below in the race for sixth spot and a certain European place. Though, we'll need help if we're to catch Sevilla for fifth; we didn't get any yesterday from Levante.
The squad is out, and the surprise is Moi Gómez is left out (technical decision). Alfonso gets another callup. Tomas Pina has been reported to have a bit of a knock but is included, and we have four strikers in the group.
- Keepers: Asenjo and Juan Carlos.
- Defenders: Mario, Rukavina, Jaume Costa, Víctor Ruiz, Musacchio and Eric Bailly.
- Midfielders: Pina, Sergio Marcos, Trigueros, Jonathan dos Santos, Campbell and Alfonso.
Strikers: Vietto, Giovani, Uche and Gerard.
Will Eric Bailly start against his former club? Remember, our acquisition of him in the winter break led to the Espanyol chairman throwing his toys from the pram, saying "relations with Villarreal were now broken" and he didn't like us any more. Maybe Ruiz starts instead.
I would not be too surprised to see Sergio Marcos start alongside Trigueros, with Campbell and Jona I guess. Though if ever we wanted to play Gio on the wing, surely this would be the time, wouldn't it?
Prediction: Villarreal 2-1 Espanyol. ENDAVANT!