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Mallorca—Villarreal PREVIEW

It’s a noon kickoff, Spanish time. Early!!

From 2011, Nilmar and Akihiro Ienaga.
Photo credit should read JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

Villarreal’s first team travel to the island of Mallorca to take on RCD Mallorca in a competitive match for the first time in almost eight years. It’s a matchup the fanbase of Los Bermellones are excited about—for more details on why, go here.

All that aside, Mallorca are an interesting proposition. They’ve arrived in the Primera courtesy of two successive promotions: they finished top of their Segunda B group (our B team finished second, eight points back) and then defeated Mirandés and Rajo Majadahonda to go up. Then, they finished fifth in the Segunda, defeated Albacete in the first playoff round, and then overturned a 2-0 loss at Deportivo La Coruña with a 3-0 win at home, a late Abdon Prats goal doing the trick.

What’s unusual is that if you look at the Mallorca roster, a LOT of it has been with them through that entire journey, including coach Vicente Moreno. Many teams win promotion and try to survive by bringing in lots of new players; Mallorca spent €7m in the summer on four players, but two of those, striker Ante Budimir and defender Anton Valjent, played the year before on loan, and one of the other two players was promptly loaned to Numancia. They did get a few players on frees or on loan, but the core of their roster is homegrown.

So, you probably won’t know many of their players. The best-known, veteran midfielder Salva Sevilla, is suspended for this match. You might remember goalkeeper Manolo Reina between the sticks for Levante in the early 2010’s. If you follow Real Madrid, you’ll know that Mallorca have young Japanese international Takefusa Kubo on loan.

it is worth mentioning that the club is owned by an ownership group headed by Robert Sarver, owner of NBA team Phoenix Suns, and minority owners include retired Sun star Steve Nash and former USMNT player Stuart Holden. That group bought Mallorca for €20m in 2016 and must have wondered what they had gotten into at first, as the team got relegated under their first full season of ownership, but now they must be enjoying things a bit more.

Mallorca don’t score much, but they are good at defending the lead if they get it—especially at home, as Real Madrid found out. Their home record is quite good: 3-2-2 (by some quirk of the schedule, this is their 8th home match in 13 games) but it has had to be. They’re 0-0-5 away from home. Missing Salva Sevilla in midfield will hurt, and if Lago Junior isn’t able to play (he’s a fitness doubt) that is not good either. They get outpossessed at home (44%) and average 10 shots—not a lot—so they have to hope to make one count. Their last match was a 2-2 draw with Osasuna at the San Moix, with both Mallorca goals from penalties.

Villarreal go into this one on a bit of a down mood. The team played really badly at Eibar, still had a chance to come away with a point, but gave up a goal late; then played really well against Athletic Club but couldn’t put the ball past Unai Simón or get a break from the referee with a couple of penalty shouts turned down.

Karl Toko Ekambi, selected as La Liga’s Player of the Month for October, has had a knock this week so he might not start. If he doesn’t, I expect Samu Chukwueze to get a go. Otherwise, it’s as usual: Asenjo, Ruben Peña, Albiol, Pau Torres, Quintillà, Moi, Santi, Zambo, Iborra and Gerard.

All-time record: Not that relevant, but we’re 5-4-4 against them on the island. Our last win here was in May 2009. 3-2, with a goal from Cani and two from Joseba Llorente, and Santi Cazorla came on as a substitute in that one (as did Bruno Soriano).

A note about the referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande. We’ve had good luck with him on the road, though he was the ref in our horrible 3-0 loss to Valencia last season. He was the ref in our win at Espanyol.

Yellow cards: Keep an eye on this. Albiol, Iborra, and Quintillà all have four yellow cards so are one away from a ban. (Anguissa has three).

Prediction: I’d love to get three points, but I’m willing to settle for a 1-1 draw. I just don’t want it to be anything like the last time we played here (a 4-0 loss under José Molina). Mario Gaspar appears to be the only player on our current roster still around from that one.