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Atletico Madrid-Villarreal PREVIEW

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This should be a tight match between two teams that don't give up much defensively, so set pieces could be important in this one.

Two players who WON'T feature in this match!!
Two players who WON'T feature in this match!!
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Without further ado, here's the Villarreal squad:

Several interesting points about that.   Eric Bailly returns from injury--will he start?  With all those defenders in the mix, might Marcelino play Mario Gaspar (say) in right midfield?  Or Rukavina?  And with Jaume Costa not included in the squad due to a left ankle injury, will Adrian Marin have the job of controlling Koke?  Sure looks like it.

Note too that both Adrian and Leo Baptistao are allowed to play against Atleti, and note Nahuel is not included in the 18.

Atlético Madrid are, just as Villarreal is this season, a tribute to their coach.  Cholo Simeone club isn't the most exciting to watch, but they play hard all over the pitch, Godin, Koke and Griezmann are world-class players, Saul Niguez is having a breakout season, and Nando Torres, after scoring his 100th goal for the club, has had a weight lifted from his shoulders...and almost always scores against us.  They'll miss Carrasco and Tiago in this one, though.

Atleti are no longer the butt of "Daddy, why do we support Atleti?" jokes; they're a well-drilled team that is doing their best to break into the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly on Spain on a permanent basis, and their budget and fortunes should only improve once they move into their new stadium (next year, I believe?).

I still have bad memories of Godin screaming at Sr. Llaneza after they defeated us and sent us down, I am still upset they signed Vietto from us after only a year (though admittedly we made a nice profit), and I hope to hell they don't sign Diego Costa again....but full credit to Simeone and to the club brass for letting him do his thing.  Atleti is physical, they are passionate, they defend their half of the pitch as if it were sacred ground.  It is never an easy match against them.

And yet....last year Villarreal produced one of the memories of the season, Vietto spinning Godin like a top and scoring the only goal when we won in the Calderon last time.  We won at home this year, again 1-0, Baptistao scoring on an assist from Soldado.

I don't yet have Atleti's 18, but this is a must-win game for them; they still have to play at Real Madrid, at Valencia, at Athletic Club, and Barcelona have the Clasico at home, Sevilla at home, Valencia at home....and a nine point lead (the match against us at El Madrigal in mid-March looks to be their toughest remaining fixture on the road).  So expect them to go all-out to win this.

All time record:

Really close, though a big difference home and away: 10-6-11 overal in the league, but only 3-2-8 on the road.  Last Villarreal win at the Calderon was last season; last time Villarreal scored two or more goals in the Calderon?  2009-10 (Fuster, Llorente).  Last time Atleti scored multiple goals against us in the Calderon? 2011-12 of course, Falcao with 2 in a 3-0 win.

Prediction:

To be honest, I can see this going any which way.  Neither team has scored more than once in the last six meetings, so I am undecided whether to channel Robin the optimist and go for 1-0 Villarreal?  Sure, let's do that--but the realist in me says 1-1.