With the two month hiatus in Europa League play following the last group matches , it occurs sometimes that when the Round of 32 matches come round, the tie isn’t exactly....what you thought it was going to be.
Certainly that’s true with the visit of Villarreal to Sporting Lisbon. If the Yellow Submarine were, say, in the top five or six of La Liga, and going well, this might be one of the better ties of the round. But as it is, Villarreal are in danger of relegation, and with a big home match this Sunday, are not exactly prioritizing this tie.
Sporting Lisbon are, along with Benfica and Porto, one of the teams that has basically defined the Portuguese league through the years. The green and white “Lions”, like the other two, have never been relegated. They have had all sorts of domestic success, though in Europe their only trophy came way back in 1964, when they won the old Cup Winners’ Cup, defeating MTK Budapest in the finale.
In recent years, the team has not fared as well as Porto or Benfica. In May 2018 around 50 of their own supporters (!) attacked players at their training ground. Nine of the team rescinded their contracts in response to this provocation, and the president of the team and manager Jorge Jesus left as well.
In the 2018-19 season, they’ve made a coaching change too, and are currently fourth in the Portuguese first division, seven points adrift of third-place Braga. Keeping in mind the lack of depth in the Portuguese league, that’s not particularly good.
Bas Dost and Bruno Fernandes are their two main goal-scorers, and their defense includes Uruguayan international Sebastian Coates and 35 year-old Jeremy Mathieu. They were in a EL group with Arsenal, and picked up only one point from those two matches, but beat up on Qarabag and Vorskla to get here.
Their stadium, the Estadio José Alvalade, was built for the 2004 Euros and seats 50,000. It’s quite attractive and you can read more about it here.
Villarreal: We’ve announced our team, which is:
Keepers: Asenjo, Andrés, Barbosa (one will drop off)
Defenders: Mario, Funes Mori, Ruiz, Alvaro, Pedraza, Quintillá
Midfielders: Caseres, Trigueros, Javi Fuego, Iborra, Cazorla, Fornals
Strikers: Raba, Chukwueze, Bacca, Toko Ekambi
Note that Bonera, Miguelón and Gerard are missing, presumably being rested for Sevilla. As for the rest, I would expect to see Andrés in goal, and presumably some sort of 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2, 3-4-2-1, whatever. Probably Bacca and Raba start somewhere, I’d think.
Note: As one wag pointed out on twitter, Sporting was the club that sold us Ruben Semedo, so they should already be up 1-0, right? Right.....
Prediction: Must I? 3-1 to the home side I guess, but I will be more interested in seeing how we play and if we can take positives away from it before Sevilla.