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WHAT: Primera Division Weekend 22
WHO: Villarreal (5th 34pts), v Numancia (17th, 20pts)
WHEN: Sunday, February 8, 17:00 CET
WHERE: El Madrigal, Villarreal

Villarreal’s season continues to spiral into freefall and Manuel Pellegrini currently seems unable to guide them out of the tailspin. One win since November, against bottom club Real Mallorca, speaks volumes about how poor Los Sumarinos Amarillos have been over the winter months. Primera Division aspirations have long since extinguished, and at this moment in time, hopes of securing a Champions League spot are slowly slipping from their grasp.

Everyone surrounding El Madrigal is openly discussing with the press how they ‘must emerge from their slump’ and how ‘they must play better’. But the fact of the matter is that even when Villarreal were winning matches this season they have rarely managed to hit the heights of 2007/08. New signings such as Altidore and Ibagaza have failed to ignite and as a result haven’t added the strength in depth that was required to move such a small but successful club on to the next level.

There is no doubting the talent they have in their side;  Cazorla, Senna, and Capdevilla are European champions, while Nihat reached the semis with Turkey and Rossi has became an Italian international. Robert Pires is still good enough to play at this level while Diego Lopez is one of the most dependable goalkeepers in La Liga. So what on Earth has happened to Spain’s perennial overachievers?

Injuries have not helped. Nihat has missed almost the entire campaign while knocks to Llorente, Rossi and Franco haven’t allowed a front pairing to stay together for long enough to form a partnership. At the back they have looked frail; Gonzalo and Godin haven’t been at their best, while Pascal Cygan has looked susceptible on a regular basis, even as cover. Pellegrini doesn’t know what has happened to his side – what chance do the rest have of knowing what Villarreal will turn up?

Numancia meanwhile are falling perilously close to the relegation battle that many knew they would be dragged into at the start of the campaign. They have only recorded one win in 2009, a 2-0 triumph over Getafe, however they have just begun the ardous task of ‘Everest’ which is the daunting fixtures of Barcelona, Sevilla, Real Madrid, and Villarreal back to back.

They wouldn’t have expected to pick up many points from this run, but at the moment, and the fact they are fighting for their lives means they could be in a position to take the game to a vulnerable opponent. Villarreal are hurting, and in the face of a match many see as a must win if they are to keep the pressure on Valencia for the fourth Champions League spot, the pressure is on them more than ever to produce a positive performance at El Madrigal, something they haven’t managed in over three months of action.

The relegation tussle has bunched up in recent weeks and teams are jostling for position for what has the potential to be an almighty struggle. Numancia have watched the likes of Osasuna and Mallorca pick up vital wins and the gap now sits at three points between the bottom three and the Rojillos will continue to look over their shoulder until they start  amassing points. Star man Barkero has eight goals this season, but they need goals from other sources if they are to amass enough points to beat the drop.

Coach Sergio Kresic has opted for a triple signing in order to freshen up his squad, bringing in former Real Madrid stopper Raul Bravo, goalkeeper Kelemen and Ivory Coast youngster Lago Junior. Will they be enough to keep them afloat, or even get them a result on Sunday?

Villarreal:

Last 5 Results:
Feb 01 Deportivo 3-0 Villarreal (La Liga)
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)


Team News:
It looks bleak on the offensive front for Pellegrini; Giuseppe Rossi could be out for a month after twisting a knee in training, Nihat is out for another month, While Franco limped off last weekend versus Deportivo. Even more strangely, Pellegrini has allowed Jozy Altidore to go on loan, meaning barring a miraculous recovery from Franco, Joseba Llorente is the only fit striker available.

Probable XI: Lopez; Angel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevilla, Cazorla, Eguren, Senna, Pires, Llorente, Ibagaza

Man To Watch

Can Marcos Senna return to any kind of form? He has been bitterly disappointing recently, and looks to be suffering from Euro 2008 burnout. His penalty miss last weekend summed up his season – can he bounce back and provide the necessary inspiration?

Numancia

Last 5 Results:
Feb 01 Numancia 0-2 Real Madrid (La Liga)
Jan 24 Barcelona 4-1 Numancia (La Liga)
Jan 17 Sevilla 1-0 Numancia (La Liga)
Jan 11 Numancia 2-0 Getafe La Liga)
Jan 04 Recreativo Huelva 3-1 Numancia (La Liga)

Team News

Forward Antonio Guayre remains the only long-term injury casualty for Numancia as they continue their run through ‘Everest’. The most likely of Kresic’s new signings to threaten the first team is former Real Madrid man Raul Bravo, who may slot in at either left or centre back.

Probable XI: Juan Pablo, Juanra, Boris, Manuel Pavon/ Raul Bravo, Ortega, Bellvis, Del Pino, Dimas, Nagore,Barkero, Brit  

Player To Watch

Numancia

Experienced forward Gorka Brit has led the line well for a Numancia side who have struggled for goals at times this season, and has scored some goals coming from the bench. He wasn’t 100% fit against Madrid last week, and Numancia will need him strong and able to lead the line this weekend.

Prediction

Villarreal have this fixture ear-marked under the must-win category, and althougt Numancia will provide stubborn resistance, the men in yellow may just sneak it by the odd goal.

Villarreal 1-0 Numancia

Paul Macdonald, Goal.com

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