Villarreal host Celta Vigo tomorrow at the Ceramica. As I mentioned on our podcast last night, going into this season both Celta and Villarreal were hard teams to predict. Celta fans were thinking about a top-half finish, maybe even European spots, but also realized it could be another year like last where the team struggled to keep above the relegation zone.
So far, it’s been the latter. Celta have two wins all season—both 1-0, both at home—and a team with attackers like Denis Suarez, Iago Aspas, Santo Mina and Rafinha have scored all of seven goals in thirteen matches. And the seven goals have come in seven different matches—they have not scored two goals in the same game since last season.
Fran Escribá seemed an odd fit for this team, and he was let go after a dour 1-0 loss to Getafe. New man Oscar Garcia began his tenure with a loss, too, but it was in the Camp Nou (4-1) and by all accounts Celta looked better.
They could play the same sort of 5-3-2 they did against Barca, I guess, with Pione Sisto parterning Iago Aspas up front. It sort of worked, holding Barca to 10 shots on goal, but didn’t offer much going forward. A 4-3-3 with Suarez coming in as a left winger might be on the cards, too.
Starting keeper Ruben Blanco is out (Sergio Alvarez, who used to start for them several years ago, will take his place), and Rafinha and Santi Mina are doubtful.
Villarreal: Earlier in the week it looked as though Sergio Asenjo might be out, but he seems to have recovered, so too Karl Toko Ekambi—though I would not be totally surprised to see Samu Chukwueze start instead. One change that will happen is Roberto Funes Mori will start for Raul Albiol, who is suspended. I expect to see Ruben Peña on the right of the back four rather than Mario Gaspar, also.
What’s at stake: After some good vibes, it’s been a toughie of late for the Yellow Submarine. They sank against Mallorca, unable to come back from a couple of crazy penalty calls, and though they outplayed Althletic Club, they got only a point. And before that they lost at Eibar. So, three matches without a win (Celta haven’t won in five).
Three points gained, depending on other results, could put us as high as sixth; a loss would not only put us in the bottom third of the table (13th or so) but would reopen the long-running debate about Javi Calleja’s fitness to coach this team—especially when you see how well some of our players performed on the international stage over the recent break.
All-time record: As Joselh pointed out, it’s rather weird. The rivalry basically has two phases: 1998-2007, spanning the time of Villarreal’s first promotion until Celta were relegated, and then 2013—present, when we had both made it back to the Primera. In that latter period, 12 matches have produced exactly one draw.
Villarreal are 3-0-3 at home. The wins include a 5-0 win and a 4-1; the losses include the 2-3 loss last season, Calleja’s last match before he was fired, and the infamous match where a “fan” threw a smoke bomb on the pitch with us losing late on.
And for more weirdness, last season we lost 3-2 at home after scoring two goals in 15 minutes; we lost 3-2 away with our two goals coming from Carlos Bacca in the last seven minutes. (Maybe Calleja should start Bacca tomorrow; he had a first-half hat-trick in our 4-1 win).
Prediction: I am going to be optimistic until results day I shouldn’t. This should be a 2-1 or 3-1 win for the home side. 3-1 I say, and my other prediction is should we lose, with matches against Valencia, Atleti, Sevilla and Getafe before Christmas, Calleja’s future may not be as secure as people seem to think. But with Celta’s away form—no wins, two draws, four losses, three goals for, eleven against—you have to figure this will be a home win.