La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 23: Villarreal vs Alaves– Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The Yellow Submarine continue their quest for the top four against on-form Alaves.
12:00 GMT, Saturday 10th February, Estadio de la Ceramica (Vila-real, Spain)
For a club of Villarreal’s size to be competing once again in the race for the top four is remarkable. Based in a city with just over 51,000 inhabitants, the Yellow Submarine continue to defy the odds and have their sights firmly set on Champions League qualification. Last week’s loss to Real Betis was their first defeat in seven league fixtures and they sit just two points behind fourth-placed Real Madrid.
Saturday’s game is the beginning of a run of three winnable fixtures against bottom-half opposition. If Villarreal can come away with maximum points in those matches then they may well find themselves in the top four by the end of this month.
Alaves have won three of their last six La Liga fixtures and have seen themselves surge out of the bottom three. Abelardo’s men have recovered brilliantly from their early season form and have now built up a healthy five point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.
If the Basque side can keep up their current momentum then fears of dropping out of the top tier will be sidelined far before the end of the season. This Alaves outfit have enough talent to secure a top-half finish and are now beginning to show their true quality.
Last Time Out
Real Betis 2-1 Villarreal (La Liga)
Villarreal were somewhat unfortunate to see their three match winning run come to an end last week in Seville. They matched their opponents in most areas of the game despite being reduced to ten men after just half an hour, when Daniele Bonera saw red.
Following the sending-off, the visitors continued to hold their own, but Betis seized the momentum with a brilliant strike from Loren Moron on the stroke of half-time.
Carlos Bacca hit the post early on in the second half as Villarreal pushed for the equaliser, only for Loren Moron to double the home-side’s lead with an intelligent header in the 65th minute.
A late penalty scored by Carlos Bacca gave the travelling support some hope but the Yellow Submarine were unable to muster another equaliser.
Alaves 2-1 Celta Vigo (La Liga)
Alaves continued their resurgence with another spirited display against Celta Vigo. The home side saw almost nothing of the ball throughout the match, with only 26% of possession, yet were able to successfully defend their early lead.
The Basque side flew out of the blocks in the first half and goals from Alfonso Pedraza and Munir El Haddadi gave them a 2-0 lead after just 18 minutes of play.
The rest of the game saw heroic defending keep out wave after wave of Celta attacks, until Iago Aspas slalomed through to score a late consolation effort.
Javier Calleja has numerous injury and suspension problems to deal with this weekend.
Striker Nicola Sansone (calf) remains a few weeks away from a return to fitness and both centre back Ruben Semedo (thigh) and midfielder Bruno Soriano (leg) are long-term injury absences.
There are some doubts over the fitness of Roberto Soriano (knee) and Samu Castillejo (knee) but both will hope to play some part on Saturday.
Midfielder Leonardo Suarez (cruciate ligament) remains out until the end of the season.
Calleja will also have to content with the suspensions of defender Daniele Bonera and midfielder Rodri who will both miss out against Alaves.
In better news, January signing Javi Fuego may step in to make his debut in place of the suspended Rodri.
Defenders Carlos Vigaray (knee) and Hector Hernandez (hernia) remain unavailable for selection.
Abelardo will be delighted to be able to welcome Mubarak Wakaso and Ruben Duarte back from suspension.
Striker John Guidetti will reclaim his place in the squad having been ineligible to play against his parent club Celta Vigo in the last round.
Key Battle: Carlos Bacca (Villarreal) vs John Guidetti (Alaves)
Carlos Bacca has looked far happier in Spain this season than he did in Italy last year. The striker, on-loan from AC Milan, has become an integral part of this Villarreal attack, particularly following the January departure of Cedric Bakambu.
The 31-year-old Colombian international has scored ten goals in all competitions this season, as well as providing five assists. Bacca has two goals and an assist in his last two La Liga fixtures and will be hoping to spearhead the attack just as effectively this time around.
Hoping to cancel out the threat of Bacca will be Swedish striker John Guidetti. The 25-year-old is also on loan and his parent club Celta Vigo will hope that he can resurrect his career in the Basque Country.
The former Manchester City forward has already played for eight different clubs in five different countries in his short career so far and is running out of chances to impress at this level. He has made a decent start to his time at Alaves, already scoring one goal and providing an assist in his first three games.
A tale of two managers
Both Abelardo and Javier Calleja have overseen extraordinary transformations in their team’s prospects this season.
When Abelardo was appointed manager of Alaves on 1st December, his side were bottom of La Liga, six points adrift of safety. Now, only two months later, Alaves are five points clear of the drop-zone and heading up the table. Since his appointment, the Basque side have amassed 16 points, with only Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Eibar have a better record in that time.
On 25th September, Javier Calleja took over a Villarreal outfit who were in 14th position, having only won two of their first six games. The Yellow submarine had just lost 0-4 to Getafe and looked to be facing a very difficult season. In the period since Calleja’s arrival, Villarreal have won 30 points, a record bettered by only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
It is safe to say that Saturday’s clash will also be a meeting of minds between two managers who at the very top of their game.
Can Villarreal keep their second-half focus?
Calleja encourages his side to play a high intensity, counter-attacking style of football and this can sometimes leave his side struggling to maintain their quality in the second-half of games. Villarreal also boast one of the most consistent team selections in the division, which further compounds the issue of energy levels dropping towards the end of matches.
The Yellow Submarine have conceded 19 goals in the second-half of matches this season, nearly 75% of their 26 goals conceded overall. They have had great success so far with their approach of getting in the faces of their opponents early in games, but if they are to break into the top four then they may need to develop a more sustainable approach.
Prediction: Villarreal 2-1 Alaves
The home side will be determined to make sure that last week’s slip-up can be quickly forgotten and they can return to the task of piling the pressure on fourth-placed Real Madrid. The visitors are growing in confidence and beginning to add some attacking style to their play as well as defensive grit. It will not be an easy three points for Villarreal, but they should have enough to see themselves past an improving Alaves.
Will Alaves continue their resurgence under Abelardo?
Let us know in the comments section below…