Real Valladolid are also on five points from their first four matches. They began the season with a win at Betis, 2-1, in a match where the Betis keeper was sent off in the 9th minute. They drew 1-1 at Real Madrid and lost 2-0 at Levante, before opening their home campaign last weekend with a 1-1 draw against Osasuna.
As we noted on the podcast, Valladolid are a team that has a lot of good players, and play together well as a team, but lack a player or two with real quality to build around. Midfielder Oscar Plano and striker Sergio Guardiola are two useful players, Jordi Masip in goal is decent (and was terrific in this fixture last year) and the backline has veterans like Nacho and Kiko Olivas. And they have brought in Pablo Porro (ex-Girona) from Manchester City on loan, and Everton have loaned them Sandro Ramirez. But overall, it’s not a team to set the pulse racing.
Coach Sergio González is probably just fine with that; last year the Pucela, newly promoted, finished 16th, and this year, their famous (51%) owner Ronaldo would presumably be happy with consolidating their Primera presence a bit more. Valladolid will line up in a 4-4-2, they’ll try to play through balls and push on the break when they can, and look for set pieces, but they are 14th in the league in possession, and 14th in pass completion percentage. Interestingly, even given that they had a man advantage for nearly 90 minutes in one of their four matches, they have allowed 17 shots per game—only Levante have allowed more.
Villarreal enter this match with no new injury worries, and it will be interesting to see how Coach Calleja rotates players with a showdown at the Camp Nou coming next Tuesday. I sort of think we may see Ruben Peña instead of Mario at right back, and I expect Carlos Bacca to be on the bench, maybe with Samu Chukwueze in the starting XI instead.
All-time record: Notwithstanding this fixture last year, this has been a series where the home side has done rather well. We are 7-1-2 at home against the purple and whites in the Primera, though our last win was back in August 2013, 2-1 (Valladolid were in the Segunda from 2014-18).
Villarreal connections: Kiko Olivas, who came up in our system, has had a decent career as a centerback with the Pucela, in his third year as a regular starter. Leo Suarez was on loan to them last year and scored the only goal of this match last year, and Enes Unal is of course on loan to Valladolid now—but can’t play in this game.
But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Antonio Rukavina, who played for Valladolid from 2012-14, then joined Villarreal on a free and was an important team player from 2014-18. Ruka fits the Valladolid profile—a decent player, good team player, nothing fancy. (He is now playing for Astana, and played all 90 minutes in their loss to Manchester United in the Europa League yesterday).
Prediction: I’ll stick with what I said in the podcast, 2-1 to Villarreal. It won’t be easy.
A note on the picture: As we noted in the podcast, a group of supporters from Madrid have cycled from Leganés to Vila-real to raise funds for a charity supporting research into Rett syndrome, a disease that affects children and currently has no cure. They will be welcomed tomorrow by other supporters’ groups with a paella party at the plaza beside our ground. The photo is of the group in Sarrión, where they spend the night before cycling in tomorrow morning. Congratulations to them!!