Villarreal-Valencia. The rivalry that became a rivalry following a UEFA Cup semifinal in 2004, when after a 0-0 draw at Villarreal, Valencia prevailed 1-0 at the Mestalla courtesy of a dodgy penalty. It’s a great rivalry, actually, and you need only look at the comments on this site to see it. We have one Valencia fan who comes on here (take a bow, Jiwonsi) and sometimes winds us up, sometimes has some good analysis of the Yellow Submarine. If we had a SBNation site devoted to Valencia CF, I guarantee we would have a lot of banter.
It really is yin and yang—Villarreal, representing a provincial, working-class town few outside the ceramic tile industry would have ever heard of—except for their team’s successes in football—and Valencia, the capital of the region and a city whose history, architecture and culture are outstanding.
But, here we are. Villarreal may be in danger of relegation, but they finished top of their Europa League group and defeated Sporting Lisbon and Zenit St. Petersburg (avenging a 2009 knockout round loss) to get here. Valencia got to this point by finishing third in their incredibly difficult Champions League group (the two teams that finished above them, Juventus and Manchester United, are still playing). In the EL, they eliminated our friends Celtic and then got a late, late Guedes goal to move past Krasnodar.
And that really is the conundrum. On paper (certainly, looking at the last result in the league and the league table) Valencia should advance. But on European form, Villarreal gets the edge.
Villarreal’s injury list is still extensive (Trigueros, Bruno, Miguelón, Javi Fuego, Daniele Bonera, Jaume Costa) but at least Alvaro and Pablo Fornals will be rested, after serving suspensions in the league. Valencia have some concerns too (Rubén Sobrino, Francis Coquelin, while Carlos Soler is suspended).
And then, there is the Marcelino factor. When Villarreal got to the EL semifinal last time round, we got a last-second goal to defeat Liverpool in Vila-real, 1-0. Marce’s natural defensive tendencies backfired at Anfield, let’s say, and we were swept away 3-0. It wasn’t pretty—I was there.
Marcelino will probably set his team out to get an away goal (which, given our defense, should not be too hard to get) while Villarreal have been very good at scoring in the EL, playing with a lot less concern and fear than in the league. At this point, we are playing with house money. The pressure is all on Valencia, especially since this is their centenary season and winning a trophy (they will face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final) would be wonderful for them. On the other hand, being knocked out of a major European competition by the “village side” would rankle.
Javi Calleja has said we won’t “go crazy”—he realizes survival in the league is paramount—but we’ve been good at using the EL matches to build confidence, and he would surely like to do that. But with a big away match at Girona on Sunday, we can’t exhaust everyone. Valencia are fighting for the CL again, important for balancing the books, and they have a local derby against Levante on Sunday so they can’t afford to exhaust themselves either.
Prediction: First leg? 2-1 Villarreal.
And in case any of you haven’t seen these, here is the Derby Days video from a few years ago on the “Battle of the Brothers”. But of course what you really want to watch again is Villarreal USA contributor Raul meeting up with Robert Pires before a Europa LEague match in Vila-real, right? Here you go!!