WHAT: La Liga Matchday 21
WHO: Deportivo La Coruna (8th, 30pts) v Villarreal (5th, 34 pts)
WHEN: Sunday, February 1st, 1700CET
WHERE: Riazor, La Coruna
After their triumphant second place in La Liga last season, and indeed their powerful start to this campaign, where they remained unbeaten until November, many had predicted Los Submarinos Amarillos may be in a position to challenge for the title itself.
However the form of runaway leaders Barcelona and their own massive dip in form has witnessed Villarreal drop out of the top four altogether and face a fight to secure any kind of European football as a result of their league position.
Chilean boss Manuel Pellegrini has recently stated he is at a loss to explain the turnaround in fortunes within his squad; however there are a number of factors that have contributed to this run that sees them with only one win since November 27.
Firstly, Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla appear to be suffering burnout from their Euro 2008 exertions and are struggling to recapture the form of the previous campaign. Furthermore, Nihat Kahveci has barely played a match since June due to a series of injuries, and as a result has been unable to form a fruitful partnership with Giuseppe Rossi, who also has been stricken by injury.
Joseba Llorente had ably filled his boots until he too picked up an injury in December that has left Rossi with the strain of being the main focus of goals for the majority of their poor run. Also hindering them is their shocking form at El Madrigal – what happened to the fortress that has formerly proved such a difficult place to travel?
Meanwhile, there was an element of doom and gloom at Deportivo in the summer; Coach Miguel Angel Lotina had precious little cash to spend, and the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Xisco exited the club without a big-name replacement being brought in.
However, Lotina’s side have been gathering praise for the results they have managed under such financial constrictions and had made real strides in the Primera Division table as well as qualifying for the latter stages of the UEFA cup.
Despite this, January hasn’t been a particularly successful month for El Turco. Lotina has refused to discuss a contract extension despite his current deal expiring in June, and the clubs form may have indirectly suffered. They have only won once since the start of the year, losing five, and despite playing well in the Bernabeu last week it was another loss that moved them further backwards in the table. A home win is crucial to steadying the ship and getting their season back on track after a run of difficult fixtures.
On the other hand, their opponents Villarreal simply must start picking up points or else their Champions League place will be in great jeopardy. With a win a must for both sides, this has all the makings of a tight, tense affair.
Last 5 Results:
Jan 25 Real Madrid 1-0 Deportivo (La Liga)
Jan 17 Barcelona 5-0 Deportivo (La Liga)
Jan 14 Deportivo 0-3 Sevilla (Copa Del Rey)
Jan 10 Deportivo 1-3 Sevilla (La Liga)
Jan 07 Sevilla 2-1 Deportivo (Copa Del Rey)
Forward Bodipo has been ruled out for a month due to a tear in his thigh muscle, while striker Mista is also likely to miss out through injury, meaning a possible start for Riki or possibly Omar Bravo.
Possible XI: Munua - Manuel Pablo, Lopo, Zé Castro, Filipe - Sergio, Juan Rodríguez, Verdú, Lafita - Cristian, Riki/Bravo
Man To Watch:
Lafita had an excellent match against Real Madrid last weekend, and was only denied by the heroics of Iker Casillas in the hunt to earn his side a point. He has the ability to score and shoot with both feet, and has a number of teams looking to secure his services.
Last 5 Results:
Jan 24 Villarreal 1-1 Osasuna (La Liga)
Jan 18 Villarreal 2-0 Mallorca (La Liga)
Jan 10 Valencia 3-3 Villarreal (La Liga)
Jan 04 Real Madrid 1-0 Villarreal (La Liga)
Dec 21 Villarreal 1-2 Barcelona (La Liga)
It looks bleak on the offensive front for Pellegrini; Giuseppe Rossi could be out for a month after twisting a knee in training, while Nihat is out for another month. At the back, mercifully, Gonzalo should return to replace the inept Pascal Cygan.
Probable XI: Lopez; Angel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevilla, Cazorla, Bruno, Senna, Cani, Llorente, Altidore/Ibagaza
Man To Watch
All the pressure will fall onto the shoulders of Joseba Llorente to grab goals after seven weeks out through injury, and he will undoubtedly lead the line against Deportivo. Can he continue on the same rich vein of goal scoring form he managed before his injury?
With Villarreal’s apparent lack of firepower, Deportivo should take advantage of their strong home record and secure a win against a weakened opponent.
Deportivo 2-1 Villarreal
Paul Macdonald, Goal.com