Villarreal host Granada in a match that I feel is a must-win one for us. Why? Three reasons.
(1) We're sputtering, with two draws against Betis and Espanyol all to show for our last couple of weeks' work. Win both of those matches, and we'd be in third place. But as it is, we're three points out of third.
(2) Granada is another team on the wrong end of the table and usually travels poorly. They're certainly in the relegation race, but they still have home matches against the four clubs below them. Those will be the key to their survival--not this match. So in theory, they should be ripe for the taking.
(3) Our closest pursuers, and those who we expected to be our closest pursuers, are all at home this week. Eibar play host to Malaga; Sevilla host Levante; Valencia host Sporting.
True, Celta Vigo are away (to Las Palmas), but they seem to be fading--and now they have two matches in the Copa del Rey semifinals to contend with...sandwiched around league encounters against Barcelona (away) and Sevilla (home). Realistically, it looks as though Eibar, if they can continue to surprise, and Sevilla are the teams to watch.
(4) Yes, we would have been drawn against Barcelona as it turned out, but it is irksome to see Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona, and Celta in the semis and us not. We made our priority the league, now we need to put the pedal to the metal and get fourth place.
(5) A win gets us on 44 points, then we can cross that target (avoiding relegation) off the list. I know, seems obvious, but remember Eibar last year.
A look at our opponents:
Granada usually doesn't do that well in El Madrigal--last year we won 2-0 in a match where we had an eye on the upcoming Copa match against Barcelona--and in fact we have only faced Granada three times in El Madrigal, and have won each time (3-1, 3-0, 2-0).
Since I have been a frequent critic of the Pozzo family's roster shenanigans, I should point out that the Granada roster has been cleaned up considerably. So, I'll climb down from that soapbox, at least somewhat!
They do have an interesting addition to the team, but he just signed for them from the United Arab Emirates, not a Pozzo-owned team--David Barral, ex Sporting and Levante (where he memorably railed against some of his teammates at halftime for not playing hard--one of the matches the anti-corruption commission investigating La Liga was very interested in, but of course nothing ever happened). He's a replacement for young 18 year-old Venezuelan Penaranda, on loan from.... Udinese, currently out injured.
Ruben Rochina is questionable for this match, and he would be a big loss for them. In their 4-2-3-1, he's in the middle of the three, has been one of their best players, and leads them with three assists. If he's not there, getting the ball to El-Arabi or Barral--whoever the single striker is--could be hard.
They have been giving up goals in buckets on the road, too--four at Las Palmas, four at Barcelona, five at Eibar. However, Villarreal might not be the kind of team to score that many.
Villarreal need to get more offense--Roberto Soldado has eight assists, which is great, but only three goals, and Cedric Bakambu has seen his productivity decrease of late. Still, you'd have to think if we can score multiple goals in this match, as we did last week, we should win.
Whatever is going on with Eric Bailly's shoulder, I can't see him playing in central defense this week; let's not forget he's only 21 and has already played way more minutes so far than he did if you count Europa League and Copa action. Victor Ruiz and Mateo Musacchio, Jaume Costa and Mario Gaspar will start ahead of Areola, whose fine form is keeping Sergio Asenjo from getting a chance to show how well he's recovered form injury.
Denis Suarez, Bruno, Manu Trigueros, Jona dos Santos....Bakambu, Soldado. You know the drill.
Yellow card counts: Soldado 9; Bailly 8; Jaume Costa 6; Victor Ruiz 5; Bruno 3; Jona dos Santos 3.
Prediction: I am optimistic our front two will find the net in this one. A goal and an assist for Soldado, I think.
Villarreal 3-1, Granada's goal from Barral.