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Spartak Moscow—Villarreal PREVIEW

Real Madrid came back empty-handed from Moscow. Can Villarreal do better?

FC Spartak Moscow vs FC Rostov Rostov-on-Don - Russian Premier League Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images

Villarreal face Spartak Moscow in our second group match in the Europa League. This will be the second time these teams have met in European competition, the first being in the 2004 Intertoto Cup (that name brings back memories!). Villarreal drew 2-2 in Moscow and won 1-0 in El Madrigal to advance on that occasion, with Sonny Anderson providing the goal in Spain.

Villarreal have taken 20 players; one of the goalkeepers will drop off the list, and one other player. Here is the list: Asenjo, Andrés, Barbosa, Jaume Costa, Álvaro, Funes Mori, Víctor Ruiz, Mario Gaspar, Pedraza, Layún, Bonera, Cazorla, Raba, Fornals, Trigueros, Gerard, Toko-Ekambi, Bacca, Sansone y Samu Chukweze.

Again, no Morlanes, no Miguelon, and no Iturra either, so we have to assume Funes Mori will be in the pivote again, if we play 4-4-2.

Spartak Moscow was founded in 1922, and grew out of a sports association, the Spartak Sports Society, which was supported by the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. (The Komsomol was dissolved in 1991, and Spartak is no longer affiliated with the sports society). They have been the most successful Russian side domestically.

Spartak have reached the semi-finals of three different European competitions: the Champions League (as the European Cup, 1990-91, eliminated by Marseille); the Europa League (as the UEFA Cup, 1997-98, eliminated by Inter Milan) and the Cup Winners’ Cup (1992-93, eliminated by Antwerp). Rather like Villarreal. And like Villarreal, they have tended to finish in the top 8 domestically.

Also (ahem) like Villarreal, they have questions about their current coach. This is Massimo Carrera’s third season in charge, but after losing to PAOK in the Champions League playoff round they have not been impressing that much in the Russian league either (though they are fifth, so not that bad), and lost to Rapid Vienna away in their first Europa League match.

Spartak have usually played a 4-3-3, though they went to a 4-2-3-1 in their last match. Cape Verde international Zé Luis is their main danger man up front. Alexander Samedov is another name you might know; he’s played for various Moscow clubs. They will miss Samuel Gigot; the young French center-back is out until March with a knee injury. Luis Adriano, ex-Shaktar striker, is suspended, so too midfielder Roman Eremenko, and they have a number of other injuries.

As a team they are supposed to be good at set pieces and creating scoring chances, but susceptible to the counterattack and prone to making errors themselves. They have won one of their last 6 matches, Villarreal have been a bit better than that but are still searching for consistency and sustained offense.

Prediction: I’ll say 1-1, which is usually safe when you haven’t seen the opponents play and you know Villarreal will be making some changes....