Preview: Anderlecht vs. Villarreal
Belgian club Anderlecht welcome Spanish side Villarreal to Lotto Park for the first leg of their Europa Conference League round-of-16 clash on Thursday.
After finishing second in Group B, Anderlecht had to come through the playoffs to reach the last 16, while Villarreal booked their place in the knockout phase by winning Group C.
Having made it through two qualifying rounds to reach the competition proper, Anderlecht won just two of their six group games, recording two draws and two losses to finish 10 points behind Group B winners West Ham United.
Anderlecht’s unconvincing Europa Conference League campaign continued with a 1-0 defeat at Ludogorets in the knockout playoffs, but they managed to turn the tie around with a 2-1 victory before advancing via penalties.
In fairness, Felice Mazzu’s men dominated the second leg, racking up 20 shots while enjoying the lion’s share of possession on home soil, before a 3-0 penalty shootout triumph sealed the deal for the Brussels outfit.
Since then, Anderlecht have taken one point from a possible six in the Belgian Pro League, with a 2-2 draw against Standard Liege preceding a 1-0 defeat at Gent, leaving Mazzu’s side all the way down in 10th place in the table.
Having lost 12 of their 28 league matches this season – picking up 10 wins and six draws in the process – the 34-time Belgian champions are 31 points shy of first-placed Genk and on course to record their lowest league finish in decades.
By contrast, Villarreal are enjoying another impressive campaign both domestically and on their European travels, as they find themselves sixth in the La Liga table and among the favourites to win the Europa Conference League.
The Yellow Submarine coasted to a comfortable Group C triumph earlier in the season, suffering a solitary defeat in six matches to finish four points clear of second-placed Lech Poznan, while no team scored more group-stage goals than Villarreal’s 14.
A four-game losing streak in La Liga across January and February threatened to derail Villarreal’s campaign, but Quique Setien’s men have returned to winning ways in recent weeks, securing back-to-back victories to steady the ship.
After scoring in each of the last three La Liga games, Jose Luis Morales will be confident of adding to his four Europa Conference League goals on Thursday, while Samuel Chukwueze is also in fine form, having bagged two goals and three assists in his previous three appearances.
Chukwueze has now registered 10 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season, while Alex Baena and Gerard Moreno have both notched 10 goals and five assists, highlighting Villarreal’s attacking firepower.
Anderlecht Europa Conference League form:
Anderlecht form (all competitions):
Villarreal Europa Conference League form:
Villarreal form (all competitions):
We say: Anderlecht 1-2 Villarreal
Having struggled at Lotto Park in recent times – winning just three of their last 12 home games in all competitions – Anderlecht look set to suffer another defeat on Thursday, with Villarreal likely to score at least twice en route to victory.