Narratives matter in football, a lot. There are ways this season could play out where Villarreal doesn’t win a trophy but the narrative says it was still a fairly successful year. Very, very few of those ways travel through a round of 32 exit in the Europa League. If Unai Emery wants to enter next season not under pressure, the simplest way to do that is to advance through this tie (and probably the one after that).
For the ‘USA’ portion of ‘Villarreal USA’ we have a couple of links here. Jesse Marsch might be my favorite American manager right now, would love to see him leading our national team. A long time player in MLS who went to school at Princeton (for the non-Americans, that means he’s very, very smart), he has been part of the Red Bull football project since 2015, and he knows their high pressing style of football by heart. American Brenden Aaronson recently moved to Salzburg from Philadelphia Union as well.
Dominik Szoboszlai was their big loss in the January window. He had been the team’s best creator. Red Bull Salzburg is unbeaten in their last seven home matches in the UEL knockouts, their last defeat was, of course, to Villarreal.
For our own part, we haven’t had a first leg end in a draw in our last 14 knockout stage first legs. We are the highest scoring team in the history of this competition and of course our manager has won it three times. All these are good indicators. Of course we all know that the midfield situation is an absolute trainwreck at the moment. I’m personally really hoping to see Emery go to a 442. We’ve handed pressure well this year no matter what formation we’ve been in, and a two man midfield should limit the number of people we have to play out of position.
Paco Alacer is averaging a UEL goal every 9 minutes this season. Not a typo.
Emery excels on this stage and the team has a great record this year against the teams that have pressed us the most. I think we win this one on the road, 2-1, and take a strong position back home for the second leg.