Villarreal visit Girona tomorrow in the Copa del Rey. Between the Espanyol loss (and organizational chaos that resulted in many Villarreal supporters having to sit in the rain while Espanyol fans hogged the covered spots), and Toko Ekambi’s departure, it’s not been a good start of the week for fans of the Submarine.
The torrential rains along Spain’s east coast are continuing, so Villarreal are taking the train to Girona rather than flying, and both teams have struggled to practice outdoors. Girona lost this weekend, too, 1-0 to Tenerife in the Canaries.
The Catalan side are seventh in the Segunda table, two points away from the last playoff spot, but there are five other teams within two points of them—and they have lost four of their last five league matches (though they did win their last home one, 3-1 over Extremadura).
Girona’s relegation last year led to the exodus of several players, among them Pedro Porro, Portu, Pere Pons, Marc Muniesa and our canterano Aleix Garcia, but they kept their main asset, Uruguayan international Cristhian Stuani. He’s got 18 goals so far this season, 4 more than anyone else in the Segunda—he tends to score in bunches. Girona also picked up Pablo Maffeo on loan (again), brought in ex-Leeds United man Samuel Saiz, and ex-Celta midfielder Jozabed.
Stuani is a real problem. He’s not just a top flight level striker he’s an extremely good one. In two seasons with Girona in La Liga he scored 40 goals (30 from open play) and averaged 0.55 xG/90. The good thing though is that he doesn’t really involve himself in the buildup play. He’s a excellent finisher but the best way to mark him is to simply starve him of service. Teams in the Segunda have figured that out and that’s why Girona are 7th in that league despite having what is in my opinion clearly the best forward in the division. The key against him in the Copa Del Rey will be to control the midfield and shut down vertical channels quickly when we lose the ball. All of his La Liga goals with Girona came inside the box. Deny him service in that area and he’s not going to be able to drop deep and create anything.
Villarreal squad for the match: Missing through ‘technical decision’ are Asenjo, Albiol, and Caceres. Missing through injury are Bruno (yeah, I know) and Gerard. So Barbosa and Andrés are the keepers, and Fer Niño and Ramiro Guerra have been added to the squad.
#CopaDelRey | ¡Los 1️⃣9️⃣ de Montilivi!@mariogaspar90 @pauttorres @funesmoriofi25 @19SCazorla @carlos7bacca @Iborra_Vicente @chukwueze_8 @AndresFdez86 @Trigueros17 @mmorlanes— Villarreal CF (@VillarrealCF) January 21, 2020
Fer Niño pic.twitter.com/E6nGBCpziX
All-time record: We’ve only met seven times in all, but there have been some important matches in there. Last season our 1-0 win at Montilivi in April propelled us toward survival and Girona down; in our 2012-13 Segunda season we moved into the second automatic promotion place after defeating Girona 4-1, and never relinquished it.
We’ve only met in the Copa del Rey once before; in October 2004 we lost 2-1 at Montilivi. It was obviously not a match where we played a lot of regulars—a very young Santi Cazorla played all 90 minutes though! (Our goal came from Bolivian international Juan Peña, a defender whom some of you might remember).
Prediction: I’m not excited about not having Gerard available, I have to say. I’m figuring 1-1 and it goes to extra time or even penalties. And then, who knows.