Villarreal take on Valencia in our last match of the season. Win and we finish fifth for sure and qualify for the Europa League group stage; draw or lose and we will have to see how three Basque clubs do (Athletic Club, Real Sociedad tomorrow, and Alaves in the final of the Copa del Rey) to know whether we are in Europe at all, have to play four matches to get to the group stage, or the whole thing doesn’t matter and we’re in the group stage anyway. Don’t you love it?
Valencia: Our big-city rivals have had a difficult season, for sure. Yes, they have moved up in the table and well above the relegation zone (12th on 46 points) but that’s been more a function of other clubs falling back (Las Palmas, Celta) than a massive improvement in form. (22 points after the first have of the season, 24 from the second half, with this match to go).
Carlos Soler has become the big find of the season—the Spanish U-21 international just signed a new contract with a huge release clause, so Los Che expect to build around him under Marcelino next season. Penalty-stopper Diego Alves is going to be leaving for sure, so, if he starts tomorrow, this will be his Valencia farewell. And others will be on the move too.
Villarreal: A bit like Valencia, the Submarine has been reasonably consistent. After 19 matches, we were fifth on 31 points. We’ve added 33 in the second half and are still in fifth heading into the last day. Word is that Fran Escribá is returning as coach next season, though appropriately enough given his penchant for saying little, no details have been forthcoming.
And in best Escribá fashion, we have no team announcement either. We do know both Sorianos (Bruno and Roberto), Victor Ruiz, Manu Trigueros and Roberto Soldado all have various twinges and twangs that kept them from practicing at times this week. (Samu Castellejo is suspended, of course). But Escribá has taken everyone on the short bus ride to Valencia, and we won’t know until shortly before game time who is in the starting lineup, and who is on the bench.
It has to be said that on paper, Valencia might be favored, but then again we went into the Mestalla last season, played our second team (as we had a Europa league semi the following Thursday) and won 2-0. You never know.
One thing to look out for is whether progress in the Atletico Madrid-Athletic Bilbao and Celta-Real Sociedad matches affect our strategy. On paper, Atleti ought to be good for at least a point against Athletic Club, which would mean we could do no worse than be even with them (I think we have to expect La Real to win at Celta, especially now their coach has confirmed he’s leaving). But if say Los Leones take a lead late into the match at the Calderón, and La Real lead as well, then one point means nothing to us. It will be interesting to see how Escriba approaches the match to start with, and whether he changes tactics. Of course, it could be our injuries will dictate all of this.
All-time record: One of the things that makes this rivalry so good is that t has been closely contested throughout. Villarreal and Valencia have played 33 times in the Primera, each has won 13. Goals? Villarreal 46, Valencia 47. We’re 4-3-9 at the Mestalla. Our victory there last season was the first since 2008. (The longest winning streak for either side is three: from May 2007 to January 2008, Villarreal won them all).
Prediction: Valencia 1-1 Villarreal. Will it be enough to get into Europe?