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Villarreal—Zenit Europa League PREVIEW

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Villarreal CF

Villarreal prepare to host Zenit St. Petersburg on Thursday at the Ceramíca, with a 3-1 cushion from the first leg. (Well, I did predict there would be a two-goal difference, I just chose the wrong team!). As it turned out, Villarreal was the only side to win away from home in the first leg, but the job is only halfway done. Let’s finish it off, Submarine!!

Zenit will have to take a bunch of chances in attack and hope that Azmoun and Dzyuba can be on target. However, the more they open up, the more gaps at the back that leaves for Villarreal. Erokhin, Marchisio and Kokorin are all still out, so their lineup should not change much. (Zenit defeated Ufa 2-1 at home on Sunday; two of the starters against us, Mak and Driussi did not play; the latter wasn’t on the bench).

Villarreal have some injury concerns; Pablo Fornals injured his back in practice this week and is questionable, according to Javi Calleja, which would be a big loss since he is sure to have some room to maneuver against a team that has to get forward like Zenit here.

The good news is that Alfonso Pedraza practiced normally today so he should be available. Our lineup figures to be largely as before, although if Fornals is unable to go, Santi Cazorla could slot into the middle alongside Iborra, or it’s possible Dani Raba could take Fornals’ place. And Mario Gaspar is likely to play, because he is suspended for Sunday’s match against Rayo. So probably he goes to the right wing and Miguelon rests up for Sunday.

Predicted lineup (3-4-1-2): Andrés; Ruiz, Funes Mori, Alvaro; Jaume Costa, Morlanes, Iborra, Mario; Dani Raba; Gerard and Samu Chukwueze.

That’s my guess, assuming Fornals isn’t able to start at least. And if we do need more attack, then bring Santi and Miguelon on for the last 30 minutes or so. That would be my guess as to how we play it.

Prediction: Well, I did so wonderfully with the first leg....I was really surprised at Zenit’s failure to look physically good after the winter break. They just weren’t sharp, and only managed seven shots the entire match. I just can’t believe they will be as poor as they were last time, you know?

Zenit haven’t been a good road team this season; they haven’t won away from home in the EL. But Villarreal can’t be complacent—they need to control the game and make sure Zenit don’t feel they have a chance to come back. It seems like a score draw to me, so I’ll say 1-1 or 2-2, either way enough to get us to the next round. But after seeing all the Champions League craziness the last week or so, take nothing for granted.

Note that the draw for the quarterfinals and semifinals will be made Friday morning by UEFA. So if we win through, we will know not only our quarterfinal opponents, but who we could face in the semis if we get there.

Endavant!! Let’s do this!