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Villarreal at Athletic Club: La Liga Preview

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Unai Emery’s men face off with ex-Villarreal boss Marcelino

Villarreal CF v Levante UD - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Coming off a big win against Red Bull Salzburg, things don’t get any easier for Unai Emery’s men. If anything, this will be a much more significant test as we face a team with more experience, arguably more technical skill, and certainly a more accomplished manager than what our rivals from Austria had (with all due respect to Jesse Marsch, who is great).

Our Opponents

Athletic Club has been a lot better since Marcelino took over, winning the SuperCopa de Espana, playing another close game with Barca, and continuing to advance in this year’s Copa Del Rey. Along the way they’ve also put five past Getafe and four past Cadiz. Central to this revival in form has been the entire reinvention of Athletic captain Iker Munian. He has five assists since Marcelino took over after previously not having any all season.

Whether Athletic Club has most of the ball or not, they want to hit you quickly. We know the drill. 4-4-2, if we lose the ball get ready to run back.

Villarreal

Folks. Bear with me. I know it’s a big ask. I know you’ve been through a lot this season. I get it. A draw is a good result here. Not saying we can’t do better than that, but we had to play midweek and Athletic Club didn’t, Marcelino has turned them into a counter attacking nightmare, this match is going to be going into a Lions Den. I expect a fairly similar XI to what we saw against Salzburg, though we’ll probably see Pedraza and Asenjo start. It’s going to be a war out there.

Our best hope is that Paco getting on the board against Salzburg got him back on track and that he and Gerard can do something special. I don’t think we’re gonna create a ton of chances here and we are currently in a tough spot where we are balancing league vs Europe on a razor’s edge. Hang in until after the Atleti game, the league schedules softens up some and I’ll bang the drum for three points week in- week out until late April right along with y’all.

Prediction

If we keep a clean sheet, I think we’ll get the win (bold, I know). But I see another 1-1 here.

Check this out:

There are only two managers Unai Emery has faced more than Marcelino (Joaquin Caparrós and Manuel Pellegrini). Emery averages 1.87 points per match against Marcelino and has 9 wins in 15 matches (one draw). It’s a fun piece of trivia to me that all three of Emery’s most faced managers have led Villarreal, though Caparrós lasted just 7 games waaaaaay back in 1999. He got fired and Paquito got us promoted. Emery played against Villarreal that season as a member of Toledo, who was dead last in the league at year’s end.