The first time Real Madrid and Villarreal faced up back in September (time flies, huh?), Villarreal showed no fear taking it to Madrid and attacking with the full fury of the Submarino Amarillo. Were it not for Diego Lopez being a flat out BEAST between the pipes and stopping a number of tough shots, Madrid would be sitting even further back of rivals Barcelona and Atlético in the standings. Of note is that Gareth Bale scored his first goal for Real Madrid in that match.
I admit that I've always like Villarreal and it plain sucked to see them dropping down a division because the league just doesn't feel the same without them. Now that they're back the Yellow Submarine is playing very good football and is a definite contender for the Champions League next season as they sit only three points back of Athletic for that fourth spot.
Villarreal is a good team that does nothing amazingly well, but nothing particularly poorly. They've conceded only one more goal than Madrid this season but are fourth in the league in terms of goals scored. This is thanks to Ikechukwu Uche (12 goals and one assist), the always annoying to play against Giovani dos Santos (eight goals and seven assists) and Jérémy Perbet (seven goals and three assists). However, their possession rate is less than 50 percent and their passing and shooting is middle of the pack. They're quite good dribblers and have some shifty, quick players with the ball, but we can expect Madrid to hold a fairly significant possession edge in this match just as they did in the first meeting (58 to 42 advantage for RM). They're like a less physical Atléti in the sense that they'll wait for the opposition to make a mistake and then pouncing on it.
Defensively Villarreal has actually been quite good and it's the defense which is the foundation for their attack. Only Barca and Atlético concede less shots per game and Villarreal is in the top half of the table in terms of tackles and interceptions per game (22 and 17, respectively). The combo of Mario and Mateo Musacchio should make life fairly tough for whoever RM decides to play on the right wing those two have arguably been Villarreal's best defenders to date. This is also a disciplined team which doesn't foul very often.
We can expect a 4-4-2 with a heavy dose of attacks coming down the right side so whoever Carlo decides to play at LB (my guess is Marcelo) will definitely need some help. No team in the league takes more shots inside the six yard box than Villarreal but they're not a strong team in the air, preferring to keep that passes low and looking for through balls coming either from the right or the middle. On the flipside, Madrid should definitely look to cross the ball into the box, and often so, in order to take advantage of their significant aerial prowess over Villarreal.
Real Madrid is a much different team than the one Villarreal saw in September. That Madrid team was still playing a 4-2-3-1 with Nacho, Illarra and Isco starting. Illarra and Isco may get the starting nod tomorrow but the team as a whole will be more cohesive than what we saw in the first meeting (or at least they should be). Expect a dog fight, and especially with Cristiano Ronaldo serving the first game of his three game suspension, but I think RM will just slightly edge out Villarreal with the aid of the home field advantage. (Rivals Barca will be facing a potential tough trip to Sevilla while Atlético will face a weak Almeria on the road.)
Available players: Casillas, López, Jesús. Pepe, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Coentrão, Carvajal, Arbeloa, Nacho. Bale, Xabi Alonso, Modric, Di María, Isco, Illarra. Benzema, Jesé and Morata.
- Carlo Ancelotti: "Bale Will Play'
- Real Madrid Used September's 0-1 Loss to Increase Intensity Against Atlético de Madrid, Ancelotti Admitted
- Marcelo Racially Abused by Atlético Fans After the Game
- What does the win over Atlético mean for Real Madrid's future?
- Post Match Voices: "We should play like this in every match."