Villarreal begin Europa League group play on Thursday with a match at the Ceramica against FC Astana. We have played the Kazakhstan champions before, in the playoff round of the Europa League in the summer of 2014. Villarreal triumphed 7-0 on aggregate, but don’t expect it to be at easy this time.
Astana made it to the Champions League group stage the following year, knocking off APOEL to get there, but the last two seasons they’ve come up against Glasgow Celtic in the Champions League playoff round, and have gone down to defeat both times.
Last season, Astana played in a Europa League group with Olympiacos, APOEL and Young Boys, and finished fourth. They do have the advantage of being in the middle of their domestic league (currently leading it by a point).
Astana’s colors are yellow and light blue—their home kit is reminiscent of Villarreal’s in the Kelme days with the bright light-blue numbers—so expect us to break out our red jerseys when we play there.
Against Celtic, which is really all I have to go on, they played a 4-2-3-1 at home, and a 4-4-1-1 on the road (which didn’t work very well, as they were thrashed 5-0). Their defense isn’t great, obviously, but they can score, at least at home (4-3 over Celtic in the second leg of that matchup).
Early word after the match on Sunday was that Carlos Bacca and Rodrigo Hernandez both suffered cramps, but we’ll have to see if, in fact, they are available for Thursday. Oddly enough, both clubs have early kickoffs on Sunday in their respective leagues, so we’ll have to see what sort of rotations both coaches decide to do on Thursday.
More on the matchup, and a brief look at the other clubs in our group, later this week. Endavant Villarreal!