Villarreal face Huesca at the Ceramica. If Villarreal win, the Submarine will achieve the magical 42-point total and almost guarantee Primera football in Vila-real next season (not quite, mathematically speaking). Huesca could still survive in the Primera, too, but would know their best total would be 38 points even if they win their final three games. They’d have to run the table and hope they can pass two other teams to stay up. It’s go for broke for them.
After winning their first match of the season at Eibar, Huesca then went 16 matches without a win. They had some good results in January and February and after defeating Sevilla on March 2 were only two points from 17th and it seemed the “Great Huesca-pe” might be on. But then, seven matches without a win followed. A home loss to Alavés was big; they played well against Real Madrid but lost 3-2, they drew 3-3 at home to Celta. And their failure to defeat Rayo last weekend was big. Still, they did defeat Eibar in midweek to given them some hope.
Avila (9 goals) and Enric Gallego (5 since joining in January) are key players for them, and have scored six of their last seven goals. Huesca has used all sorts of formations, including a 5-3-2, but have mostly gone with a four-man back line and one or two strikers up front.
One concern for Villarreal, with Vicente Iborra suspended, is that Huesca do tend to win a lot of aerial challenges—20 per game, and Gallego wins 6 of them. Villarreal average 16, and iborra is the only player averaging more than 2.5/game. So we can expect high balls to be played toward Gallego—a lot.
Huesca have some injury concerns: Pablo Insua has been out for awhile, and left back Javi Galán is doubtful. If he’s not able to go, seldom-used Adrian Dieguez will have to fill in—and that’s the side where Samu Chukwueze loves to attack.
Villarreal’s big miss is Iborra, who is suspended. The new injury concern is Carlos Bacca, who has a hamstring knock and may not be available. Manu Morlanes is not 100% either.
So, we know Huesca will have to come at us; I’m thinking a 4-2-3-1 with Gerard in front, Ekambi, Cazorla, Chukwueze ahead of Caceres and Fornals, and then a back four of Mario, Alvaro, Funes Mori and Quintillá. I don’t know if Asenjo will be fit or not; it would not surprise me to see Andrés continue if there is any injury doubt with Asenjo.
The other possibility would be to go back to the three central defenders— bring in Ruiz, bring in Pedraza on the left wing, play Mario on the right wing and have Santi, Fornals and Caceres between them, with Ekambi and Gerard as the strikers. Maybe, but Alvaro and Funes Mori have done well together of late so I think Calleja doesn’t change things.
All-time record: The teams have hardly met. I believe we met in the Tercera back in the 1970’s, but that’s hardly relevant. We played in the Segunda in 2012-13, drew at home, won away; we played in the Copa in 2015-16 and lost away, win at home to progress; and of course we drew 2-2 in Luis Garcia Plaza’s first match of his short tenure, Huesca scoring on the last kick of the game to get a draw after Gerard had given us the lead even though we were a man down. (Huesca’s tying goal was scored by samuele Longo, who immediately left Huesca for Cremonese of the Italian Serie B).
Prediction: Huesca’s away form just isn’t that good, and while a draw, for Villarreal, would be disappointing, it would not be the end of the world. For Huesca, it would be, so even if we’re tied late, they can’t just defend—and that should leave them open to through balls from the likes of Fornals and Santi. I’m thinking Villarreal wins this, 3-2. Or maybe 3-1.