One of the four semi-finalists of the UEFA Europa League will be confirmed when Valencia host Villarreal at Mestalla in the quarter-final second leg on Thursday.
The UEFA Europa League resumes this Thursday with the second leg fixtures of all four quarter-finals set to be played out at the same time. One of the more one-sided ties in the contest is the Derbi de la Comunitat, wherein Villarreal will be hoping to mount an incredible comeback when they face Valencia at Mestalla.
The drop down to the UEFA Europa League has weirdly sparked a turnaround in fortunes for Valencia, who have come into contention for a place in the top four in La Liga while also being comfortably positioned in Europe.
Los Che had eased past Celtic in the Round of 32 before narrowly beating FC Krasnodar in the Last 16 stage to set up the Valencian Country Derby. Villarreal, on the other hand had been comfortable in their knockout wins over Sporting Lisbon and Zenit St. Petersburg before they were drawn against Valencia in a tie in which they find their backs against the wall.
As far as recent form is concerned, El Submarino Amarillo have lost only two of their last nine games in all competitions, which is a stellar record when one takes their entire campaign into perspective. The improved run of results has also helped them climb outside the relegation zone of La Liga, where they now have their fate in their own hands.
The first leg, played at Estadio de la Ceramica last week, saw Valencia ease to a 3-1 win over Villarreal thanks to a couple of late goals from Goncalo Guedes and Daniel Wass. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Europa League encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Marcelino does not have many pressing concerns hampering his preparations for the visit of Villarreal. On Thursday, the Valencia boss will definitely be without just two first-team players, with Geoffrey Kondogbia out with a thigh injury, while Cristiano Piccini is recovering from an illness.
The absence of Piccini means it is likely that Facundo Roncaglia will be deployed as a right-back once again, with Daniel Wass being an option in midfield. On the opposite flank, Toni Lato could be handed a rare start, with Jose Gaya being at threat of missing out the first leg of the semi-finals should he pick up a booking.
At the heart of the defence, with Mouctar Diakhaby finding himself in a similar position as Gaya, ever-present Argentine Ezequiel Garay will have Gabriel Paulista as his partner, with Neto continuing in goal for Valencia. Up ahead in midfield, Carlos Soler is available once again after serving a one-match ban in the first leg.
The young Spaniard, however, might not start, with Ferran Torres expected to keep his place on the right side of the midfield. Goncalo Guedes should start on the left flank, despite running the risk of procuring a suspension if he is shown a yellow card, with the in-form Portuguese needed to put the tie to bed.
In the middle of the park, Valencia captain Dani Parejo should have Daniel Wass as his partner once again, as Francis Coquelin will miss the next match if he is booked. Meanwhile, upfront, Marcelino continues to sweat over the fitness of top scorer Rodrigo Moreno.
The Spanish international is struggling with a minor hamstring complaint and is thus, unlikely to be risked on Thursday. In his stead, Santi Mina should continue in the strike partnership, with Kevin Gameiro being his partner.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Neto; Roncaglia, Garay, Gabriel, Lato; Torres, Parejo, Wass, Guedes; Gameiro, Mina
Javier Calleja does not have any fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of the short trip to face local rivals Valencia. In fact, the Villarreal boss has greeted some positive news this week, with Jaume Costa (hamstring) and Javi Fuego (illness) both receiving the medical all clear to return to action.
The Yellow Submarine now have just Daniele Bonera (hamstring), Miguelon (back) and club captain Bruno Soriano (leg) remaining on the treatment table. Alvaro Gonzalez will also be unavailable for the second leg, having picked up a suspension due to accumulation of yellow cards.
Costa might not return to the side straightaway, with Calleja only easing him back to action. Xavi Quintilla, who has recently been promoted from Villarreal B should thus, start as the left-back once again, with stand-in captain Mario Gaspar, an automatic selection on the opposite flank.
At the heart of the Villarreal defence, Gonzalez’s absence means Ramiro Funes Mori and Victor Ruiz will form the central defensive partnership. Up ahead in midfield, Santi Cazorla and Santiago Caseres should be deployed in the double pivot, with Cazorla pulling the strings in the middle of the park, while the latter will screen the defence.
Pablo Fornals will look to complement Cazorla by linking up play in the final third, with Karl Toko Ekambi starting out on the left once again. The right wing slot, meanwhile, will be manned by the impressive Samuel Chukwueze, who has taken to the rigours of first-team football with elan. Gerard Moreno, meanwhile, will lead the line for Villarreal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Fernandez; Gaspar, Ruiz, Funes Mori, Quintilla; Caseres, Cazorla; Chukwueze, Fornals, Toko Ekambi; Moreno
- Valencia are yet to be beaten by Villarreal in three previous meetings in European competition, with El Submarino Amarillo only managing to score once (W2 D1).
- Valencia have a strong record at Mestalla against fellow Spanish sides, having been beaten just once in eight such fixtures (W6 D1).
- Los Che though, are hoping to bring an end to their Spanish curse in the UEFA Europa League, having been eliminated from each of their four previous campaigns in the competition by Spanish opposition – Atletico Madrid in the 2009-10 quarter-finals and 2011-12 semi-finals, Sevilla in the 2013-14 semi-finals and Athletic Bilbao in the 2015-16 round of 16.
- Villarreal have won only one of nine European fixtures against fellow Spanish sides and just one of four knockout ties.
- Villarreal have lost only one of their last 13 UEFA Europa League away matches (W5 D7) – against Lyon in last season’s round of 32 (1-3).
Player to Watch
Having had a couple of horrific years that were wasted to injury troubles, Santi Cazorla has already had a campaign to remember, despite Villarreal’s struggles in domestic competitions. But, the former Arsenal superstar now has a big job on his hands, the job to inspire a stirring comeback over local rivals Valencia.
While the frontmen will invariably be under the spotlight for their ability to find the back of the net, it will be up to Cazorla to assert Villarreal’s authority in the middle of the park while stringing together the chances that the attackers will need coming their way constantly to do the job. A task that Cazorla is capable of completing, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to do so on Thursday.
Valencia 2-0 Villarreal
The result in the first leg has all but confirmed Valencia’s safe passage through to the semi-finals of this season’s UEFA Europa League. And while one can never say never, especially in Europe, Los Che’s strong defensive record means that Villarreal might not be able to do the job, even if they play out of their skins.
Having said that, it is but obvious that Villarreal will take the game to their local rivals in a bid to script a memorable comeback tale. But, in their bid to do so, they ought to leave spaces to be exploited, which will only play into Valencia’s hands.
And so, The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for Marcelino & co. to make it to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, where they will face the winner of tie between Napoli and Arsenal at San Paolo.