Anyone have a clue as to how we are going to play in San Mames on Sunday? Because I don’t. The Yellow Submarine has been on an (underwater) roller coaster as of late, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Primarily it has been high form in the Europa League – which, of course, is wonderful – coupled with horrid batches of dropped points in La Liga, week after week. The team that Garrido seems to produce in midweek action these days is simply not the same team that lethargically shows up on the weekends. And tomorrow? Yep, a weekend La Liga match.
Ironically, expect better from the Yellow side this Sunday, as Athletic are always a thorn in Villarreal’s side. That doesn’t make sense? Go back and look at how Villarreal have played on the road this term in La Liga. Their worst performances have been matches against some of the lesser Primera teams: Real Sociedad, Getafe, Deportivo, Atletico, Gijón. Their best road matches have come against better competition (even though some amounted to losses): Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Espanyol. Simply put, it is one of Garrido’s best aspects that he can get the team up for great competition. Unfortunately, the other side of that coin is that one of his worst characteristics as a trainer is that he is unable to get the players to care that much against lower-level competition.
But the team knows that Athletic Bilbao is top-tier competition. As Jose Manuel Catalá pointed out in a couple of interviews this week (seriously – anyone expect it to be Catalá providing all the quotes after the Europa League win?), Sunday’s match in Bilbao is absolutely huge. A win over Bilbao would put us 12 points ahead of them, with only 9 matches to go, and could theoretically drop them from our radar as competitors for the Champions League. As Catalá stated, “We have a good cushion of points, but we are going to San Mames with all the desire in the world. It’s not a decisive game, but if we beat them you could say we would discard a direct rival.”
Athletic are in the midst of a recovery from some very poor form, their own February/March slump. The good news for Athletic is two-fold. First, their slump was not against poor competition – they lost four straight to Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia, and Zaragoza. Second, they seem to have turned things around with a win over a strange Sevilla side, and an away draw last weekend at Getafe.
Bilbao will have their ferocious number 9 Fernando Llorente ready, who has a sparkling 15 goals to his credit, including the initial goal the first time these teams met this season. Villarreal will also have to watch out for always dangerous Igor Gabilondo who has scored five this year (and scored in the match at El Madrigal in 2009/2010) and one of my personal nemeses, Gaizka Toquero, who, at least in my memory of matches always seems to be able to show up in the wrong place at the wrong time for Villarreal.
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