Villarreal take on Athletic Club in a match that could scarcely be more important. The Bilbao side is a point behind the Yellow Submarine (and one point ahead of Real Sociedad), and since the Basques won in November against us 1-0, we need to win by two clear goals in order to have the tiebreaker in the event we are even on points at the end of the season.
Villarreal have been playing better this year on the road, but our home form has not been very good compared to recent years. We are only 8-3-4 at home; we were 12-4-3 last season. We’ve actually lost more home games (4) than away (3).
The Bilbao side are pretty much at full strength; the Submarine is missing Asenjo, Cheryshev, and Rukavina, as we have for awhile now.
Athletic Club: Their Basque-only policy does limit the universe of possible players to choose from, but when you look at this current side you wouldn’t know it. Aritz Aduriz has 12 goals, and Inaki Williams, Garcia and Muinain are all dangerous and very good. And Yeray, Alvarez, Laporte in the defense are all very good as well. They love to play head tennis against us, utilizing their height advantage.
Villarreal: The key in this match may well be on the wings, where Jaume Costa and Mario Gaspar need to work with Trigueros and Bruno to dominate midfield and set up chances for our strikers. I expect Bakambu and Soldado to start, with Roberto Soriano and Jona dos Santos—assuming he has recovered from his charley horse—on the wings.
All-time record: This is one of those matchups where the home side has tended to do very well. Villarreal are 10-4-2 at home against Athletic Club, and our last loss came in the 2003/04 season. The Basques picked up a draw in March 2014, their last point in Vila-real.
Prediction: Villarreal 2-1 Athletic Club. It could go either way, though.