Atletico Madrid will be eager to return to winning ways when they pay Villarreal a visit at Estadio de la Ceramica on Friday.

La Liga action resumes on Friday with Matchday 16 of the 2019-20 season. First up, is a potentially riveting encounter between two struggling giants of Spanish football, as Villarreal play hosts to Atletico Madrid at Estadio de La Ceramica on Friday night.

Villarreal came into this season hoping to improve their fortunes considerably after limping to a 14th-placed finish in La Liga last term. The Yellow Submarine started the current campaign in decent fashion, only to see their struggles resume in recent weeks – Javier Calleja’s men are without a win in five games and have dropped down to 13th on the standings.

Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, are slightly better off than their hosts, as far as league position is concerned. However, even as the Colchoneros have only been beaten twice in La Liga till date, it is the wins that have been hard to come by. Diego Simeone’s men have managed just six wins in 15 top-flight outings, dropping points as many times as Real Madrid and Barcelona combined.

The corresponding fixture last season ended in a stalemate as Villarreal came from a goal down to hold Atletico Madrid to a 1-1 draw. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Player to Watch

Villarreal

Santi Cazorla will be sorely missed against Atletico Madrid by Villarreal. (Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images)

Santi Cazorla will be sorely missed against Atletico Madrid by Villarreal. (Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images)

Javier Calleja does not have any fresh injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid. On Friday, the Villarreal boss will continue to be without three first-team players, with Alberto Moreno (calf), Bruno Soriano (leg) and Santi Cazorla (ankle) sidelined with their respective injuries.

Among the trio, Cazorla is a major absentee for Villarreal, with the 34-year-old carrying most of the creative threat for the hosts. In his absence, the onus will be on Manu Trigueros and Manu Morlanes to provide the forward thrust from the middle of the park, with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa sitting at the base of a three-man midfield.

The midfielders will be tasked with moving the ball forward with pace and precision, so as to exploit the abilities of Samu Chukwueze and Karl Toko Ekambi to good effect. Villarreal’s talisman in the final third, though, will be top scorer Gerard Moreno, who is likely to start on the left flank.

Defence has been the Achilles Heel for Villarreal and the back four will need to tighten up in order to add to Atletico Madrid’s woes. Even as Villarreal have struggled, young defender Pau Torres has managed to impress and the 22-year-old will partner Raul Albiol at the heart of the defence.

With Alberto Moreno out injured, Xavi Quintilla will likely get the nod as the left-back, with Mario Gaspar, who will don the armband for Villarreal, starting on the right side of the defence. In goal, there is no looking past Sergio Asenjo.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Asenjo; Gaspar, Albiol, Torres, Quintilla; Morlanes, Anguissa, Trigueros; Chukwueze, Toko Ekambi, Gerard Moreno

Villarreal

Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa is a fresh absentee for Atletico Madrid after being booked for the fifth time this season in the 1-0 loss to Barcelona last weekend. Other than the Argentine forward, Jose Maria Gimenez (thigh), Stefan Savic (hamstring), Sime Vrsaljko (knee) and Diego Costa (neck) are also unavailable, due to their respective fitness issues.

In the absence of Gimenez and Savic, Mario Hermoso and Felipe pick themselves pick themselves at the heart of the Atletico Madrid defence. Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi are certain starters as the full-back pairing, with Lodi replacing Saul Niguez as the hosts’ left-back. Jan Oblak will take his place between the sticks once again as well.

Correa’s absence means Saul is likely to move up into the midfield, starting on the right flank. The rest of the midfield quartet picks itself, with Thomas Partey and Hector Herrera partnering up in central midfield, while captain Koke will start on the left side of the Atletico Madrid midfield.

Costa’s unavailability means Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix are certain to form the strike partnership. Top scorer Morata will have the onus on him to add to Atletico Madrid’s dismal scoring record this season, while Felix needs to pull his socks up after enduring a slowdown in his progress.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Trippier, Felipe, Hermoso, Lodi; Saul, Herrera, Partey, Koke; Felix, Morata

Atletico Madrid

Key Stats

  • Villarreal have failed to win each of their last five games in La Liga, with four of those fixtures ending in a loss (D1).
  • Atletico Madrid have managed to win just two of their seven away games in La Liga this season (D4 L1), and none of their last four, which have all ended in a stalemate.
  • Atletico Madrid have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last seven games. Villarreal, on the other hand, have managed just two shut-outs all season.
  • Villarreal have only been beaten once in seven games at home this term (W3 D3), although the sole defeat came in their last outing at home.
  • Only Karim Benzema (10) and Lionel Messi (9) have found the back of the net more often than Gerard Moreno (8) in La Liga this season.

Player to Watch

Gerard Moreno

Villarreal's key man. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Villarreal’s key man. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

The goals have dried up for Villarreal in the last month or so, with Javier Calleja’s men managing to find the back of the net just four times in their last five games. That it was coincided with their five-game winless run is hardly a coincidence and the absence of Santi Cazorla has only compounded their problems. The onus will, therefore, be on Gerard Moreno to produce the goods.

Top scorer for Calleja’s struggling side, Moreno has often led the charge alone for Villarreal. But, if supported well against Atletico Madrid, Moreno is the player who can pave the way for a much-needed win. Once again, the key man for the Yellow Submarine.

Prediction

Villarreal 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Villarreal just cannot find a way to win at the moment and in such a scenario, a meeting with Atletico Madrid would be the last thing they would need. However, Los Rojiblancos are just not the side they have been revered to be in recent years, having not kept a clean sheet in each of their last seven games.

Therefore, the hosts cannot lock horns with Atletico Madrid at a better time. And, with Gerard Moreno in fine touch, the visitors’ frustrating run without clean sheets ought to continue. Having said that, Villarreal ought to be vulnerable at the back as well, and so goals can be expected at both ends. To that end, The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-2 draw between the two struggling outfits.

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