7 games left for Villarreal to save itself, and this match at Girona is a key one for both teams. Girona flirted with the European places for awhile last season before faltering and finishing tenth. This season has been tougher—coach Pablo Machin left for Sevilla in the summer, and Eusebio Sacristan replaced him. If Girona do stay up, it will be thanks to Cristhian Stuani, who has 18 goals of Girona’s 33. (Portu has 6, the next highest is 2).
Girona’s home form has been worse than Villarreal’s, with only two league wins, the last in October. When they try to open up at home, they leave themselves open, and they’ve been outscored 25-15 at home, which is just astonishing.
Of course, Villarreal has problems of its own. Things were looking up for awhile, but the late collapses against Celta and Barcelona, and the missed penalty against Betis late, have got to be getting into players’ minds. And the Europa League, which has so often been a respite from those mental goblins, provided more on Thursday.
On the face of it, this match is crying out to be a score draw. Girona are without two of their regular midfielders—Alex Granell and Douglas Luiz, but have the aforementioned Stuani, while Villarreal are without Victor Ruiz but do have all their strike force available, and Ekambi, Bacca and Moreno, together, have 18 goals too.
What may make the difference is between the ears. Can Villarreal take a lead late on the road and hold it? Can Girona take a lead at home late into the match and hold it? Because neither has been good at either of those things. Whichever team can conquer theirself-destructive form to date could win this thing.
All-time record: Limited, but strange. In the Primera, the teams have met three times, and the home side has never won (we won this fixture 2-1 last season, two goals by Bakambu versus one by Stuani). We each had home wins in the 2012-13 Segunda season.
Trivia: This is not the first time Santi Cazorla has played at Montilivi. In October 2004 (!), 14 and 1⁄2 years ago, he was a member of a Villarreal side that lost 2-1 in the first round of the Copa del Rey.
Angel Rangel, surely one of the great football names even if he hadn’t had a good career with Swansea City, was in the Girona side that day, and current Barcelona goalkeeper coach José Maria de la Fuente was between the sticks for them as well. Javi Calleja was in our team then, but he didn’t play and I don’t know if he was in the squad that day.
Prediction: After all that, you want a prediction? I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.