Let’s be blunt. Unai Emery gave away three points in La Liga last week so that he could focus on the Europa League. That move earned us a semi-final with Arsenal but also cost us a point each to Real Sociedad and Real Betis. Had Emery played a full strength lineup and won, we’d be in 5th place two points clear. Instead, we sit in 7th.
Whether it’s all worth it or not remains to be seen. As our squad has gotten healthy, I’ve adopted a bit of a ‘win Europa or bust’ mentality. If we finish 7th and fail to win Europa, this whole year will feel like a missed opportunity.
Speaking of 7th, we find out later today if 7th will actually be good enough for Europe at all. Basically, we need Barcelona to win the Copa Del Rey in order for 7th to get us into the Europa Conference next year. Screw Barca. Let’s just not finish 7th.
Villarreal have beaten Levante in 4 of our last six meetings in La Liga, Levante, for their part, is not in particularly good home form, having only won one of their last seven home matches. The way the schedule unfolds the next couple of weeks is complicated. We play Sunday then have to turn around and play again on Wednesday before Barcelona the following Sunday. I suspect that Emery is going to try to win the next two matches and then rotate heavily for the Barca game that’s happens to be right before the first leg with Arsenal. If that’s what he ends up doing, then it’s even more imperative that we win here.
As for our rivals for 5th and 6th place, Real Sociedad play Sevilla in the early match Sunday, while Real Betis face Valencia. We’ll know by our matchtime where we stand, but in my opinion our odds aren’t too bad that those teams will drop points again.