Following their respective defeats to the traditional giants of La Liga last week, Sevilla and Villarreal convene on Saturday afternoon at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
Both sides bounced back with Copa del Rey wins in midweek but will be keen to taste success again in the league – particularly the underperforming away side, who trail their hosts by some 12 points and eight places in the table.
Just days after finally picking up a first Champions League win which keeps them in contention to make the last 16 next week, Sevilla returned to domestic action last weekend with a dispiriting defeat to La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
Despite having marginally the better of a close-fought encounter in the capital, Los Rojiblancos were ultimately beaten by a moment of magic from the irrepressible Vinicius Junior, who slalomed through the Sevilla defence before curling the champions’ winner past Yassine Bonou.
That ended an unbeaten run of six league games for Julen Lopetegui’s side, who now occupy fourth spot in the standings, eight points behind Real at the summit.
Nonetheless, Sevilla have gone undefeated on home soil in the league since the start of the season, picking up a total of five wins from six at the Sanchez-Pizjuan so far. Indeed, they have racked up an impressive 17 goals in the process – at a rate of nearly three strikes per game.
While a much-changed team took care of business in their Copa del Rey tie at Cordoba on Wednesday – substitute Lucas Ocampos eventually securing a place in the draw for the next round with an extra-time goal – their challenge will be much tougher against a fellow Champions League outfit, albeit one who have struggled to replicate last season’s league form.
Down in 12th place following their fourth La Liga defeat of an inconsistent campaign, Villarreal are currently stationed closer to the bottom three than the top four due to a lack of final-third firepower so far this term.
The Yellow Submarine have now won only one of their last seven matches in the league – at home to Getafe in early November – after a 3-1 loss to Barcelona last weekend.
Since steering the family-owned outfit to their first-ever European trophy last spring, little has gone right for under-fire coach Unai Emery, who has not been repaid with improved performances since affirming his loyalty to the club amid interest from Newcastle United last month.
Defeat to Atalanta next week would see Villarreal knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition at the group stage, and a failure to record just a fourth league success of the season at Sevilla would ramp up the pressure before the trip to Bergamo.
Having crushed Victoria CF 8-0 in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday, at least Emery’s squad players have managed to register a few goals to their name, as an away record featuring no wins and only four goals is among the worst in the Spanish top flight – so confidence when out on the road is particularly fragile.
Sevilla La Liga form:
Sevilla form (all competitions):
Villarreal La Liga form:
Villarreal form (all competitions):
We say: Sevilla 2-1 Villarreal
There are several reasons why Sevilla should triumph on Saturday, not least their unbeaten home streak compared to their visitors’ woeful winless start away from home.
The Andalusians have also assembled several dangerous attacking options in a deepening squad, which will leave too much work to do for the returning Gerard Moreno to bale out his misfiring Villarreal colleagues.