Villarreal return to the Europa League fray with a match in Israel against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the same club they handily defeated at the Ceramica on November 5.
With three wins from three, and an excellent goal difference, another Villarreal victory would wrap up first place in Group I, for all intents and purposes. A Maccabi win would leave both clubs on 9 points, possibly only three ahead of the third-placed side. So there is something to play for.
At the same time, we should not be looking for Villarreal to start its best here. Maccabi have won two straight since we last played them, yes, but against the two bottom teams in their domestic league, and by 1-0 and 2-1 scores. And with a big match against Real Sociedad looming on Sunday, and Paco Alcácer trying to get back to fitness after a muscle injury, this is clearly going to be a time for some of Villarreal’s younger and/or more fringe players to get a look.
Rulli will be in goal; don’t be surprised to see a back line that includes Funes Mori, Chakla, Foyth, or Jaume Costa; while Take Kubo, you’d think, would get a start (unless Emery has taken a dislike to that whole soap opera). Carlos Bacca, Fer Niño, Alex Baena, Yeremi Pino, Dani Raba....any or all of these could probably see some playing time Thursday. We might see Samu Chukwueze start, come to think about it.
I can’t say much about Maccabi; it does look like Nick Blackman is returning to fitness (he came on as a late sub in their last match) but otherwise they should be pretty much as they were. If I find out any news about who actually has travelled to play for us, or any news about Tel Aviv’s roster for the match, I will update this post.
Prediction: We drew 0-0 here back in 2017, but I expect us to win this one 2-1.