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Villarreal-Athletic Bilbao PREVIEW

This is one of the most important matches we have played in the league in a long time.

La Liga: Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao
El Madrigal in 2005 when Athletic Bilbao visited.
Photo by Luis Bagu/Getty Images

Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao dismissed their coaches and hired new ones around the same time. Gaizka Garitano took over for Berizzo in December, and has led Los Leones to three wins and two losses in the league since taking over.

For Luis Garcia Plaza and Villarreal, the news hasn’t been as good. Yes, we did have a four-game undefeated streak, but the results were all draws—no wins—and last week we lost to Getafe. At this point draws won’t cut it—we need a WIN!

Athletic Club have figured out that the way ti win is to play both Iñaki Williams and Muinain, and Garitano’s 4-2-3-1 with Muinain in the middle of the attacking three and Williams up top has worked well.

Mikel Rico and Iñigo Lekue are out, Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz are doubtful.

Expect the 4-2-3-1 with Cordoba on the left and De Marcos (or perhaps Ibai Gomez) on the right, Dani Garcia and Exchebarria as the middle two, Yuri, Iñigo Martinez, Yeray Alvarez, and Ander Capa as the backline in front of Herrerin.

Bilbao have looked good under Garitano and this will be a tough test.

Villarreal: it’s do-or-die time, basically. Lose this, and we would be four points adrift of 18th place and five points from safety. Win it (I know, we’ve forgotten what that’s like) and we are a point behind Celta, and possibly pass Rayo. Quite apart from the points, we need something to build on. You can’t start a winning streak without the first win!

There are rumors we will have Toko Ekambi on the left and Samu on the right with Fornals in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 behind (of course) Gerard, but no one really knows. Santi Cazorla and Iborra have to play somewhere. If Ruiz is healthy he starts with Funes Mori, and Jaume Costa and Mario are likely to retain their places, with Sergio Asenjo in goal of course.

Recent record: It used to be both teams easily held serve at home, but last April Athletic beat us at home for the first time since February 2004. And, not to be outdone, we won earlier this season in San Mamés for the first time since 2011.

Overall, though, the stats still say Villarreal have had overwhelming success at whatever you want to call our ground, with 11 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses at home in the Primera (which of course is the only division Los Leones have ever played in).

I always end these previews with “Endavant Villarreal” but this time, I really mean it. We have to go forward, we have to go ahead. There have been a few rumors of issues behind the scenes and locker room ructions, which wouldn’t be surprising given our recent results, and might not be a bad thing. Or it might be.

Prediction: I think we’ll be able to see fairly quickly tomorrow the team’s attitude, which may play just as much of a role in the outcome as anything else. I honestly don’t know what to expect, or what to predict. I have to predict a Villarreal win—let’s say 2-1—but whether that’s truly a prediction, a hope, or a prayer, I’m not sure.