The Europa League group draw has matched Villarreal up in group A with Astana (Kazakh champions yet again, and eliminated, yet again, by Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers), Maccabi Tel Aviv (second in the Israeli league) and Slavia Prague, who were Czech champs but were eliminated by APOEL in the Champions league playoff round.
It’s nearly 7000km from Astana to Vila-real, and the Kazakh club gets to make that trip in time for a match on September 14 at the Ceramica (Villarreal are supposed to play the early match on the Sunday following in Alavés, which seems remarkably unfair scheduling). Villarreal play away in Tel Aviv (at least there is a direct flight there, but it’s still 4000+ km away) on September 28, with a match at home against Eibar supposedly on Saturday; I expect either the Maccabi match will happen the day before, or Eibar will be moved to Sunday or Monday. It’s right before our next international break. When we return, we host Slavia Prague the next week.
Our trip to Prague, which will surely delight members of our Penya El Madrigal in Slovakia, will happen November 2nd, and then we take a trip to Astana on November 23. Not exactly good timing for a big match hosting Sevilla the weekend following. We end up at home against Tel Aviv on December 7, and we host Barcelona right after that.
Given our poor performance so far in La Liga, it’s hard to predict how we’ll do; on paper we should easily make it out of this group, but we never seem to do that, even when our form in the league has been good. The key will be to have at least six points from the first three matches (including two at home); if we can do that and pick up four points from the next three, 10 points should see us through.
Last year, we played in what was a pretty even group, as it turned out. This group looks to be similar to that, though of course you never really know. Osmanlispor won the group on 10 points and we finished second with 9. 9 points will almost always qualify you, unless you play in a group where one team picks up nothing (as happened to Mainz last season).
We were also in group A in 2014-15, when we finished second in that group and made it to the round of 16, where Sevilla eliminated us.