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Villarreal-Deportivo Alaves PREVIEW

This is a home game we should win, but the short turnaround after the Zurich game won’t help.

Villarreal host Deportivo Alavés at El Madrigal on Sunday. This will be the first times these two teams have met since two goals from Juan Román Riquelme were the highlights of a 3-2 Villarreal victory at El Madrigal. Alaves were relegated that year, in fact spent some time in the Segunda B before gaining promotion to the Primera last season.

Alavés: Mauricio Pellegrino coaches the club from Vitoria-Gasteiz; as you might expect given their new Primera status, most of their new players are loanees (including Marcos Llorente from Madrid, Deyverson and Camarasa from Levante, and ex-Villarreal B keeper Adrián Ortolá). However, they did shell out €3.2m on Colombian midfielder Dani Torres.

BTW, their Villarreal loanee, Cristian Espinosa, has mostly been used off the bench so far. We did not put anything in his contract that keeps him from playing against us tomorrow, as far as I know.

Of course, their highlight so far was their 2-1 victory in the Camp Nou back in September; they played Sevilla and Valencia tough on the road, losing 2-1 to both. Last time out they lost to Espanyol at home, a Gerard Moreno goal late on doing them in.

They have two road wins (Barca and Osasuna) and one home win (Granada). As long as they can carve out a few wins against the Depors, Osasunas, Sportings and Granadas of the world, anything else would be gravy and should keep them up for another season.

Villarreal: Maybe I’m wrong, but this match seems a lot bigger now that the Submarine weren’t able to win against Zurich. It’s a noontime kickoff, and we usually play horribly in those early-kickoff games; plus, we are coming in here after flying back late on Thursday. There are signs of discontent among the Villarreal fanbase as a result of our making such heavy weather of our Europa League group—it’s safe to say if we don’t win this match, the honeymoon will be over as far as Coach Escribá is concerned.

Team news: Not much, really. I’d expect Sansone to start as one of the two of the 4-4-2, Roberto Soriano should get back in the lineup after staying home in midweek, and Mario Gaspar and Jaume Costa should return.

Part of the importance of this match is that right now it’s hard to assess this team. The Submarine blew out Celta, had a comfortable if less impressive win over a poor Betis, and was frankly lucky to defeat Las Palmas. The Eibar loss was tough to analyze, as we went for a win and got burned by a counterattack.

We followed that up with a very poor match at San Mamés, where we hardly troubled the Athletic defense, and then there was the debacle at Zurich, where we combined brilliant buildup interplay with Sunday league finishing in the first half, and then were outplayed in the latter stages of the game by a second-division Swiss side.

Is Villarreal really a contender for the Champions League positions, or are we simply a part of a largish group of decent teams in la Liga?

Prediction: I’m concerned because of our track record in early matches, but let’s go for Villarreal 2-1 Alavés.

Note that there is no TV in the US (beinsport does not televise the early kickoffs), so....good luck. Javi Mata and the Radio Vila-real crew will have the Valencian radio call—go here for that.

Endavant Villarreal !!!