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Villarreal-Espanyol PREVIEW

El Madrigal prepares to receive its first match since mid-May, and it will be strange to see Hernan Perez and Gerard Moreno playing against us!

A blast from the past!! Pascal Cygan vs Raul Tamudo...
A blast from the past!! Pascal Cygan vs Raul Tamudo...
Bagu Blanco/Getty Images

Villarreal usually have one home match in the summer preseason where the new squad can be presented, but not this year--so this match serves both as our opening home game in La Liga and also the first chance most supporters have had to see this year's squad at all.

In addition, our opponents feature two recent ex-amarillos in their squad, Hernán Perez and Gerard Moreno.  Gerard forced a move to his hometown club, hoping to see more playing time, though since the pericos play a 4-2-3-1 and Felipe Caicedo is in the squad, Gerard might not get that automatic start he wanted.

Espanyol finished tenth last season after flirting with worse for a time, and every summer have to work the loan market and players available on free, or sell to buy.  Finances are tight, and so while the Gerard arrival got a lot of the headlines as far as Villarreal fans were concerned, don't forget Cristian Stuani, Sergio Garcia and Hector Moreno all departed, while last year's ever-present goalkeeper, Kiko Casilla, has returned to Madrid after his loan period ended.  They did pick up Marco Asensio on loan from Madrid, and don't forget he and Gerard played together for Mallorca a couple of years back.

As for Villarreal, this has been a summer of change.  Between the club deciding it had gotten as much as it could out of players like Uche and Gio, Atleti swooping for Vietto, and Gerard leaving, the attack has been totally rejigged.  The fan base is excited--as it should be--abut the arrival of Roberto Soldado, but to be honest our progress this season, at least on the offensive end, may depend on how the two "Samus", Bapitstao, and Bukambu can work together as a team, and the extent to which youngsters such as Nahuel (and I hope Ivan Alejo and Alfonso Pedraza as well) can contribute.

Mateo Musacchio seems to be recovering from his ankle injury pretty well, so should be available in a month or so; until then, the combination of Bailly and Victor Ruiz is our first-choice center-back pairing, and has looked good in the preseason.  I suppose we should take some consolation that no one has scored a legal goal on us yet this season!!

Villarreal has usually done pretty well against Espanyol in recent seasons, especially in El Madrigal, but last year we lost 3-0 to them in a mid-April match that either I didn't see or have done my best to forget, because I have no memory of it--it was during that period after Sevilla knocked us out of Europe, we had Bruno and Chery out, and we were pretty much struggling to the finish of the season.

Injury concerns: Apart from Asenjo and Musacchio (long-term), Bruno is suspended for us; Alvaro Gonzalez broke his nose in their opening match but has been fitted with protective gear so could play for Espanyol.

Prediction: I'm going for Villarreal 3-1.  Not sure Espanyol's D is going to be that strong, and I'm looking for a big game from players like Trigueros, Samu C and Nahuel in midfield and a Soldado goal or two.  (and in Robin Stacey's absence, I am channeling his optimism!!)