12:00 GMT, Saturday 15th April, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, (Seville, Spain)
If Sevilla had been slightly more clinical in front of goal in their first leg against Bayern Munich then they may well have found themselves in the Champions League semi-final draw. The Andalusians looked comfortable at Europe’s top table and caused their opponents no end of problems with Bayern appearing somewhat bemused by the notion that a team may have to confidence to take a direct approach against them.
In the league, however, Sevilla find themselves in serious trouble. Vincenzo Montella may have guided his side into the latter stages in Europe, yet his side sit precariously in 7th position, 18 points of the top four and a point behind 6th placed Villarreal. They have failed to win their last four matches in La Liga and need to finish strongly to avoid missing out on European competition altogether.
Sunday’s visitors Villarreal are in poor form themselves, having won only three of their last six games. Last week’s home loss against Athletic Bilbao followed a surprise loss to bottom club Malaga and confidence in dangerously low at Estadio de la Ceramica.
The Yellow Submarine are in 6th place, 17 points adrift of the Champions League places. Their recent run of losses has seen them overtaken by Real Betis and they are now in serious danger of slipping out of the top six themselves. A loss on Saturday would see them drop out of the European qualification places with only six games remaining.
Last Time Out
Bayern Munich 0-0 (2-1) Sevilla (UEFA Champions League-Quarter-Final-Second Leg)
Sevilla were unfortunate to lose their home leg 1-2 and the challenge of overturning Bayern Munich in their own back yard proved too difficult a task.
The visitors held their own for the majority of the game and prevented Bayern from scoring, yet never looked particularly dangerous themselves.
Joaquin Correa hit the bar on the hour mark as Sevilla desperately probed for a way back into the game during the second half. They could not, however, find the breakthrough they required.
Correa saw red in the 90th minute for a reckless challenge to add further insult to injury for the Andalusians.
Villarreal 1-3 Athletic Bilbao (La Liga)
The home side produced a frail display against a determined Athletic Bilbao outfit. Villarreal were consistently outfought in the middle of the park and failed to create many meaningful chances going forward.
Athletic winger Inigo Cordoba skidded past Sergio Asenjo to give the visitors a lead within five minutes.
The scoreline was doubled six minutes after the break, with Inaki Williams showing great anticipation to follow up on a rebound.
A glimmer of hope presented itself to Villarreal in the 67th minute through a confident strike from Carlos Bacca.
With three minutes remaining, however, Iker Muniain put the tie to bed, scoring his side’s third of the match and adding deserved emphasis to the scoreline.
Vincenzo Montella will be without the impressive centre back Simon Kjaer (hamstring) with Gabriel Mercado most likely to assume his role.
Left back Lionel Carole (muscle) also looks set to miss out this time round.
Javier Calleja’s task of turning around Villarreal’s form will not be helped by their high number of absentees this weekend.
Midfield trio Bruno Soriano (leg), Ramiro Guerra (knock) and Pablo Fornals (broken hand) will all be unavailable for selection.
Defender Alvaro Gonzalez will miss out through suspension and there are also doubts over the match fitness of defensive colleague Daniele Bonera.
In more positive news, centre back Victor Ruiz looks set to return to the starting lineup following a period of ill health.
Key Battle: Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla) vs Rodri (Villarreal)
29-year-old midfielder Steven N’Zonzi has firmly established himself as the primary midfield reference point for Sevilla this season. The Frenchman has doubled up effectively as midfield enforcer as well as deep lying playmaker and is central to his side in both attacking and defensive phases.
In Sevilla’s most recent league encounter, against Celta Vigo, N’Zonzi played poorly and allowed their opponents plenty of space to exploit. This weekend, they cannot afford to offer the same kind of leeway to a Villarreal who carry a superior attacking threat.
The man tasked with limiting N’Zonzi’s influence on Saturday will most likely be defensive midfielder Rodri. The 21-year-old has been one of the break-out stars of this La Liga season and has been Villarreal’s most consistent midfield performer.
Rodri dominates space with a composure that belies his youth and provides plentiful opportunities for his more attack minded colleagues. Even when Villarreal are at their worst, Rodri’s performance levels tend not to drop. They will require yet another robust display from him this weekend.
Can Sevilla return their focus to the league?
Having won the Europa League for the last three consecutive seasons, Sevilla approach European ties full of self-belief. Though the Champions League has been a step up, Montella’s side have never really looked out of place and they will take a huge amount of pride from their performances against Bayern Munich.
Sevilla’s direct, hassling approach appears particularly suited to cup football and has certainly failed to translate into league success this season. With only seven games remaining, they are in serious trouble of missing out on European qualification.
Their European adventure has been thoroughly enjoyed by fans and neutrals alike. Sevilla must now return their focus to the league if they are to embark on yet another European journey next season.
Tough waters ahead for the Yellow Submarine
For large parts of this season it looked as though Villarreal were in with a chance of breaking into the top four. An awful run since February has seen those fleeting hopes dashed and Europa League qualification is now their priority.
In their seven remaining fixtures, they play four of the current top seven, including both Barcelona and Real Madrid away. If the Yellow Submarine are to secure European football next season then they cannot afford to drop points against side’s below them. A win on Saturday would go a long way to calming fears of a late season collapse.
Prediction: Sevilla 2-1 Villarreal
Sevilla do not come into this game in particularly impressive league form. They may, however, draw confidence from their strong midweek display in Munich and begin to reassert themselves domestically.
The visitors, Villarreal, have more than enough attacking talent to cause Sevilla problems. If their struggles at the back continue, however, then they may find Sevilla simply too hot to handle.
Montella’s side are a difficult prospect at home and should secure all three points on Saturday.
Will Sevilla remain in the hunt for European qualification?
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