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Villarreal—Maccabi Tel Aviv EUROPA LEAGUE PREVIEW

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We’ll be playing them twice in succession, first in Vila-real.

FBL-EUR-C3-GARABAGH-VILLARREAL Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

Villarreal and Maccabi Tel Aviv clash in a battle of the top two teams in Europa League Group I. The Israeli side benefited from a red card to come from behind and defeat Sivasspor last time, while Villarreal had their own come-from-behind adventure against Qarabag.

We played this team in the 2017-18 Europa League group stage as well, and didn’t fare well, losing 1-0 at home (in a match where we played virtually a B-team lineup including a young Pau Torres) and drawing 0-0 away. That team was coached by Jordi Cruyff, who has moved on, and many of the players have as well, though goalscorer Nick Blackman is still around.

Maccabi are now coached by Georgios Donis, whom some of you might remember as a midfielder for a couple of English sides in the late 1990’s. He’s managed at APOEL and most recently Panathinakos, so has some Europa League coaching experience.

So far, it has to be said Maccabi have not gotten off to a great start in the Ligat Ha’al, drawing three and losing one. They have some decent midfield players (Dan Biton, Dor Peretz) and they do have one player you should remember, Enric Saborit, a defender born in Barcelona who played for Athletic Club’s first team in 2016-18.

Expect them to try to keep things very tight; against Qarabag they played a 5-4-1 and really should have put that game away with another goal or two; they tried a 3-4-3 against Sivasspor. Even with a man advantage for nearly a third of the match, they only had 8 shots, so don’t expect them to leave us a lot of space either.

Villarreal will be without Coquelin and Foyth (coach Emery said as much today at his press conference) so a key for Emery to get right will be who plays where in midfield, because we need to neutralize Maccabi’s strength there. We might see Alfonso Pedraza and Estupiñan both starting, I believe. Probably we start Bacca but maybe Gerard as well. What about:

Rulli; Estupiñan—Funes Mori—Albiol—Peña; Pedraza—Iborra—Trigueros; Kubo—Bacca—Gerard.

I was trying to rest Iborra but couldn’t figure out how to do it!

Prediction: Always difficult against clubs you don’t know from leagues you don’t know. We ought to win this, but given our injuries and a match with Getafe coming up, I am going to say 1-1.....