Villarreal host Atletico Madrid at the Ceramica on Friday with both teams needing a win to get out of a recent funk. Villarreal haven’t won in five matches in the league, and Atleti have won only once in their last seven tries in all competitions.
The teams’ SB Nation bloggers get on quite well, but the same can’t be said of the teams’ head honchos. Villarreal are still fuming over Atleti signing some of the young players we developed in the cantera when they got old enough to sign a contract, so there will be no chummy presidents’ dinner before the match, and don’t expect to see Atleti representatives sitting with Sr. Roig during the game.
Atleti: As Jeremy and I discussed, this was going to be a season of change for Atleti—we knew that. Felipe Luis, Juanfran, Diego Godin all went on frees, but what was surprising (and not totally welcome from a Atleti standpoint) was that Antoine Griezmann, Rodrigo Hernandez and Lucas Hernandez all left as well. The Madrid side reinvested that €270 million (!!), picking up Joao Felix for €126m, Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente, Felipe, Hector Herrera, and Renan Lodi. But picking up Alvaro Morata on loan from Chelsea back in January might have been their key move, because Griezmann is gone and Diego Costa is injured.
That’s a lot of new players, and apart from Saúl and Koke in midfield, and Jan Oblak in goal, it’s a roster that doesn’t have a lot of experience playing under Diego Simeone. Injuries have not helped, either—Jose Gimenez, Savic and Vrsaljko are all out along with Costa, and Angel Correa is suspended.
The mattress-makers have a must-win Champions League match at home against Lokomotiv Moscow next Wednesday—that probably doesn’t affect their starting lineup much, but it might encourage them to play it safe with subs and whatnot.
Villarreal: Santi Cazorla has apparently recovered from his ankle sprain, though whether he will start is unsure. Sergio Asenjo has not looked in good form of late, but presumably will start in goal; otherwise, I expect to see Mario and Quintillà flanking Pau Torres and Raul Albiol in the back four, and likely Anguissa, Trigueros, Moi, Iborra, Toko Ekambi and Gerard ahead of them in some formation or other.
I figure Santi, Samu and Ontiveros will be the subs to come on, because Calleja.
Speaking of whom, it’s been a quiet week in Vila-real; if there are any misgivings among the top brass as to whether he’s still the guy for the job, they have been kept very quiet. Even so, it would be a big boost to Calleja’s chances if we won this one. A draw basically pushes the whole drama along awhile longer, while another home loss would make his survival problematic in my view—especially as we play at Sevilla next and then have a real banana-skin of a game in the Copa del Rey.
All-time record: Similar to Villarreal-Valencia, Villarreal and Atleti has been a great series in the league. Villarreal are 13-9-12, 47 goals for, 46 against. We’re 9-5-3 at home; our most recent loss was in 2014-15 (Asenjo was injured in this one late on, you may recall); last season, we drew 1-1, Felipe Luis and Mario Gaspar the respective scorers.
Trivia: Villarreal have faced Sevilla and Valencia in Europe many times, but not Atletico Madrid. It’s only happened once, in the 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup; Villarreal won on penalties after each side won 2-0 at home. Diego Simeone played for Atletico Madrid in those matches; Santi Cazorla and Javi Calleja were both in the Villarreal squad but didn’t see action in the finals.
Prediction: 1-1 draw, probably, but I will hope for 2-1 somehow. Oblak is tough to beat, though.