Villarreal return to action after the international break with a match against Girona at their Montilivi ground. This will be the first time these clubs have met in the Primera, and only the fourth time in recent history, at least: Girona defeated Villarreal in the Copa del Rey in a single leg match, 2-1 at Montilivi, and the clubs split honors in the 2012-13 Segunda campaign, Villarreal winning 4-1 at home, and Girona winning 2-0 at home.
The opposition: The red and whites began the season well with a home draw against Atletico Madrid and a home win against Malaga, but since then have played five matches without a victory.
Girona are owned roughly 45% by Manchester City and another 45% by a group led by Pep Guardiola’s brother, so have five Man City loanees in their squad, including ex-Villarreal cantera player Aleix Garcia. Their key players include veterans like striker Cristian Stuani, returned to Spain after a spell with Middlesborough; midfielders Alex Granell and Borja Garcia, veterans of several Girona campaigns, and Gorka Iraizoz in goal, who joined Girona after 10 years at Athletic Bilbao. Combine that with Sky Blue loanees Marc Muniesa and Pablo Maffeo on the back line, and their lineup looks reasonably competitive.
Villarreal will be the fifth club playing in Europe that Girona have faced in their first eight matches, so the fact they’re keeping their head above water so far tells me they probably will be just fine once they play the matches that really matter, against teams that figure to be struggling to stay up. They aren’t scoring a lot (6 goals) but their 11 allowed so far isn’t bad when you consider the quality of their opposition.
Villarreal: Asenjo, Andres Fernandez, Bruno, and Semedo (quadriceps injury) are injured; a few other players are left out for technical decision though. Here’s the call:
Keepers: Barbosa and Cantero.
Defenders: Mario Gaspar, Rukavina, Jaume Costa, Álvaro, Víctor Ruiz and Bonera.
Midfielders: Trigueros, Rodrigo, Soriano, Samu Castillejo, Fornals, Cheryshev and Ramiro Guerra (dorsal 26).
Strikers: Bacca, Bakambu y Sansone.
I would expect to see a similar lineup as against Eibar; yes, we have two other matches in the next eight days, but they are both at home (Slavia Prague on Thursday, Las Palmas on Sunday) and after international breaks, hard to feel we need to rest people.
Trivia: The town of Girona makes an appearance in Game of Thrones, season six, as the “Free City of Essos”. Needless to say, the football ground didn’t appear!
Prediction: Girona 1-1 Villarreal. I’m being conservative here, I think, since we’ve had a layoff and this is Calleja’s first match on the road.