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Pucela meet Villarreal with renewed confidence

Real Valladolid look to earn their second league victory in a row as they welcome Villarreal to the José Zorrilla on Saturday.

Javi Calleja brings his side to Valladolid having won five out of their last six league outings. However, the Yellow Submarine experienced a shock in midweek as they crashed out of the Copa del Rey at the hands of mid-table Segunda outfit CD Mirandés. The visitors were totally outclassed by the team from Miranda de Ebro who had already dispatched Primera opposition in the form of Celta and Sevilla in previous rounds.

This could possibly be a very good time for the blanquivioletas to tackle a team who beat them comfortably in Round 5 of the league in late September. The cup exit threatens to overshadow the momentum built up by their opponents in recent weeks, and Calleja faces a series of reshuffles in his defence due to injuries.

The sides last met in Round 5 in Villarreal with the hosts emerging victors by a 2-0 score (Image: La Liga)

Villarreal occupy the seventh position in the league, gaining 34 points out of the available 66 which translates to 52%. They are just two points behind sixth-placed Atlético Madrid and are potentially just two wins away from being in the top four. However, the chasing pack is relatively tight and any slip ups on Saturday could see them being overtaken by Real Sociedad – who are also on 34 points – or even Athletic Club in ninth. Overall, Villarreal have won ten out their 22 matches, drawing four and losing eight. They score an average of 1.77 goals per game, contrasted by 1.36 conceded.

Santi Cazorla is enjoying a new lease of life with his former club and is a constant threat to opponents (Image: These Football Times)

They have a fairly balanced record away from the Estadio de la Cerámica, collecting five wins and six losses on the road while amassing a haul of 15 out of 33 points (45%). They have scored sixteen goals and conceded the same amount on their travels, thus garnering an equal 1.45 goals scored/conceded per game.

The men in yellow have competed well against the top teams in the league. They drew at home to Real Madrid and lost by one goal to Barcelona. In consecutive weeks, they played out a stalemate against Atlético, won on the road in Sevilla and conquered Getafe at home which was rewarded with seven points from a possible nine in their toughest run of games. Their biggest win of the season was a 5-1 hammering of Real Betis at home in September. However, they lost surprisingly to bottom of the table Espanyol in Round 20 at home and have also suffered defeats against Levante, Eibar, Celta and Mallorca to add to the disappointment of the Copa embarrassment.

Villarreal can boast some players of genuine quality. Santi Cazorla remains one of the most influential players in the league, and is enjoying a renaissance in his second spell at the club following his injury nightmare in the English Premier League. He is one of the team’s most consistent performers, registering four goals and three assists in his first seven matches of the campaign. Having added another two assists to his total, he also has eight goals so far this season. This is on level pegging with prolific striker Gerard Moreno who also got off to a flyer by bagging five of those in the first four outings. One big loss offensively, however, is Karl Toko Ekambi who has joined Lyon on loan for the rest of the season. He had registered six goals before departing for France. In return, Villarreal splashed out on Paco Alcácer who joined in the winter transfer window from Borussia Dortmund for over £19 million. One of their unsung heroes is Moi Gómez, with the 25-year-old midfielder chipping in with three goals and three assists, mainly operating out of the left-hand side.

Rubén Alcaraz battles for poession in midfiled when the teams met last season. Real Valladolid won 1-0.

Javi Calleja likes to vary his formations and personnel to keep opponents guessing. As well as experimenting over the course of the season with 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-2-1 desings, his preferred formation appears to be a 4-2-3-1 setup, with Gerard or Colombian Carlos Bacca as the sole striker and André Anguissa and Vicente Iborra as sitting midfielders in front of the defence. They have won three, lost four and drawn once in this look. In addition, he employs a traditional 4-4-2 formation and my feeling is that this is how they will line up on Saturday given that he will have to make adjustments to his back four and will be without the services of the suspended Anguissa in the midfield. Although he has made it into the squad, veteran Raúl Albiol could miss just his second match of the season having had the cold all week, and fellow centre-back Pau Torres is injured will be out until later this month. That means club captain Mario Gaspar may switch over from right-back to the opposite side again, where he played last week, to allow Rubén Peña to fill in. Argentine Ramiro Funes Mori will most likely retain his place at centre-back having appeared there for the last two league outings and the Mirandés match and could be partnered by Moroccan Sofian Chakla who was on the bench last week and would make his league debut if he featured.

There will be some familiar faces in the Villarreal line-up to Real Valladolid fans as goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo was a firm favourite with the fans during his time at the José Zorrilla. He began his youth career with Pucela in 2005, progressing to the B-team Promesas the following year. He broke into the first team later that season and went on to make more than 50 appearances for the blanquivioletas. Javier Ontiveros spent 2018 on loan at Real Valladolid from Málaga and was part of the successful promotion season to the Primera. He scored the second goal when the sides met back in Round 5.

Current Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo began his career with Real Valladolid (Image: Zimbio)

On the other side of the field, Real Valladolid are buoyed by their win at RCD Mallorca in the previous week’s fixtures. They had gone nine matches without a win prior to this fixture, so it was an extremely welcome victory which put some daylight between themselves and the relegation battle. This, along with new signings Hatem Ben Arfa and Matheus Fernandes, will instill some confidence into the squad. Ben Arfa is called up for the first time, having sat out last weekend’s win due to a lack of match sharpness, but Fernandes will not feature. Striker Enes Ünal is joint top scorer for Sergio González’s side with four goals and is on his second loan spell with the club from Villarreal.

Despite losing the match against Villarreal earlier in the season, Real Valladolid hold a narrow advantage over their opponents in the head-to-head stakes. With 24 matches played between the sides, Pucela hold an eleven to nine lead, with four draws.

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