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Villarreal-Alaves PREVIEW

A lot of familiar faces visit the Ceramíca.

Bayer Leverkusen v Villarreal CF - UEFA Europa League Round of 16: Second Leg
Pedraza in action for Villarreal in the Europa League in 2016
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Bongarts/Getty Images

Deportivo Alavés come to town, playing the early Saturday kickoff in Vila-real. Under their third coach of the season, Abelardo, appointed in December, the size from Vitoria-Gasteiz has looked much more competitive, defeating Sevilla and narrowly losing to Barcelona in the Camp Nou, and winning at home against Celta last weekend.

They’re still near the bottom of the table, but have rocketed away from the drop zone and are looking much more like the team that finished ninth in La Liga last season.

Our visitors have a number of familiar faces in their squad. Tomás Pina is playing central midfield, on loan from Club Brugge where he hardly paid last season after moving for €3m from Villarreal. Well-travelled Wakaso Mubarak is in their squad, too, though unlikely to start. He joined in a free from Panathanikos in the summer, though he played for Granada on loan in 2017.

Hernán Pérez, still one of my favorite Villarreal players from the early 2010’s, returns too—he’s on loan from Espanyol until the end of the season. (Alaves also picked up John Guidetti from Celta during the January window). And then there is our own loanee, Alfonso Pedraza. He’s been used all along the left flank, from defender, to midfielder in a 4-4-2, to attacking winger in a 4-3-3. He’s been seeing much more playing time since Abelardo arrived, though I don’t know if he is eligible to play against us on Saturday.

Alavés will line up in a 4-4-2 with Guidetti and Munir El Haddadi, on loan from Barcelona, the likely strikers. Basically this is a good mix of veteran players, not household names but La Liga veterans, with a few young loanees like Munir and Pedraza sprinkled in. They don’t score a ton, they don’t always defend well, but they play aggressively (though they don’t often control possession).

Villarreal: The squad list isn’t out yet, but we do know we’re without Daniele Bonera (red card last match) and Rodri Hernandez (yellow card accumulation). Alvaro Gonzalez, who has been fighting off an injury, says he’s good to go with Victor Ruiz at the back. Javi Fuego will replace Rodri at the back of the diamond midfield. Other than that, unless there are any miraculous recoveries from the long-term injuries, it’ll be Unal and Bacca again up top.

Prediction: Having come a cropper last week, I’m looking for better things this time, but it won’t be easy. 2-1 Villarreal.