In what will be an all-Spanish encounter, Villarreal will take on Valencia in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final tie on Thursday night.

Villarreal will welcome fellow La Liga outfit Valencia to the Estadio de la Ceramica on Thursday, as the two teams will collide in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter-final.

It has been a strange season for Villarreal, who are fighting to survive the drop in La Liga, but have been a force to reckon with in the continental competition. Javier Calleja’s men topped Group D that also consisted of Rangers, Rapid Wien and Spartak Moscow and then dispatched Sporting Lisbon over two legs (2-1 on aggregate) in the Round of 32.

The previous round saw Villarreal lock horns with Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg, whom they made light work of, winning 5-2 on aggregate. The Yellow Submarine haven’t tasted defeat in the Europa League this season (W5 D5), but come into the game having not won in three matches (L2), with their latest game ending in a 2-1 loss to Real Betis.

Valencia entered the Europa League in the Round of 32, having dropped down from the Champions League, after finishing behind Juventus and Manchester United in their group. Los Che got the better of Scottish champions Celtic in the first knockout round, beating them 3-0 on aggregate.

Drawn against FC Krasnodar in the Round of 16 phase, Marcelino’s side were made to work hard by the Russian side, but held on for a 3-2 aggregate win. Having beaten Sevilla and Real Madrid in back-to-back league games, Valencia lost 2-0 to Rayo Vallecano this past weekend.

Villarreal and Valencia have clashed twice already this season in La Liga, with the first game at Estadio de la Ceramica ending in a goalless draw, while the second clash saw Los Che take a 3-0 win. Ahead of the Derbi de la Comunitat on Thursday, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Villarreal

Villarreal have a number of injury concerns heading into the big game as Bruno Soriano, Manu Trigueros, Miguelon are all ruled out with injuries, while the likes of Daniele Bonera, Javi Fuego and Jaume Costa are all major doubts to be involved in the derby as well.

The hosts will line up in a 3-5-2 formation that they have preferred for most of the campaign. In goal, Sergio Asenjo is the undisputed choice and he will be shielded by a back-three comprising of Victor Ruiz, Ramiro Funes Mori and Alvaro Gonzalez, who returns to the team after being suspended for the weekend game against Betis.

Mario Gaspar and Alfonso Pedraza are the preferred options in the wing-back positions on the right and left sides respectively. The duo will need to provide the width going forward for Villarreal.

Calleja is likely to enlist the services of Santiago Caseres and Vicente Iborra to provide a solid base in the middle of the park. Seasoned campaigner Santi Cazorla is expected to be the creative outlet for the home team from the middle of the park, with Pablo Fornals providing added option from the bench.

Carlos Bacca and Gerard Moreno are likely to get the nod as the two forwards for Villarreal in the derby, ahead of Karl Toko Ekambi and Samuel Chukwueze, both of whom can do significant damage coming on from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Asenjo; Gonzalez, Funes Mori, Ruiz; Gaspar, Iborra, Caseres, Cazorla, Pedraza; Bacca, Moreno

Valencia

Ruben Sobrino and Geoffrey Kondogbia are ruled out with injuries, while key man Carlos Soler misses out with suspension. Francis Coquelin was an injury doubt, but has been included in the 18-man matchday squad named by manager Marcelino.

Valencia will line up in the 4-4-2 formation that has worked so well for them. Brazilian shot-stopper Neto is nailed down for the starting spot in goal. The fit-again Cristiano Piccini is set to step in at right-back, with Jose Gaya certain to start on the opposite side. Ezequiel Garay and Mouctar Diakhaby should form the central defensive partnership, with Gabriel dropping out.

Daniel Wass is likely to get the nod on the right side of the four-man midfield, with Goncalo Guedes in line to return on the opposite flank. The Portuguese will be the key creative outlet going forward for the visitors against their neighbours. Dani Parejo and Coquelin will be tasked with manning the centre of the pitch.

Rodrigo Moreno can prove to be a handful for any opposition and should feature from the kick-off on Wednesday. The Spanish international is likely to be partnered by Kevin Gameiro in attack, with Santi Mina providing cover from the bench.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Neto; Piccini, Garay, Diakhaby, Gaya; Wass, Parejo, Coquelin, Guedes; Rodrigo, Gameiro

Key Stats

  • Villarreal and Valencia have met in European competition twice before – in the two-legged semi-final of the UEFA Cup in 2003-04. Los Che eked out a narrow 1-0 aggregate victory, before going on to lift the trophy.
  • This is Villarreal’s fifth appearance in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. They have reached this stage previously in 2003-04, 2004-05, 2010-11 and 2015-16; only in 2004-05 were they eliminated, by AZ Alkmaar.
  • Valencia have reached the quarter-final phase of the UEFA Cup/Europa League for the ninth time, progressing at this stage in three of their last four attempts.
  • Villarreal have won just one of their previous eight all-Spanish European games (D2 L5), defeating Atletico Madrid 2-0 at home in the first leg of the UEFA Intertoto Cup final in August 2004.
  • Valencia have been beaten only twice in their last 11 games in the Europa League (W8 D1), but both games were away to fellow Spanish sides (0-2 vs Sevilla in 2013-14 and 0-1 vs Athletic Bilbao in 2015-16).

Player to Watch

Goncalo Guedes

Time to step up for Guedes (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Time to step up for Guedes (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

It has been quite an underwhelming campaign for the 22-year-old Portuguese sensation, who has had to battle with multiple injuries over the course of the season. In 27 appearances across all competitions, Guedes has managed meagre returns of only three goals and a solitary assist.

However, Valencia can draw confidence from the fact that all three of his goals this season have come in the past month, that include a key strike in the 1-1 draw against Krasnodar in the second leg of the last round and a goal in the 2-1 win over Real Madrid as well.

Having made an appearance from the bench against Rayo at the weekend, Guedes, in all likelihood, should start on Thursday and will have an important role to essay, if his side are to come away with a significant advantage. A key encounter awaits the Portuguese international.

Prediction

Villarreal 1-1 Valencia

Both Villarreal and Valencia come into Thursday’s game on the back of defeats. But, prior to that, they had proven quite difficult to beat and had notched up significant results, with Valencia beating Real Madrid 2-1 and Villarreal playing out a highly-entertaining 4-4 draw against Barcelona.

A derby in the knockout phase of a competition always makes for an enticing prospect with an added edge to it and Thursday’s contest will be no different. Both teams are going to come hard at each other and it promises to be a tightly-contested affair that is likely to end in a 1-1 draw, giving Valencia an important away goal.

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