COPA DEL REY | VILARREAL - BARCELONA
Villarreal are dreaming again
After semi-final disappointments in 2004, 2006 and 2011, Yellow Submarine are playing for a first major final appearance again against Barça.
It’s been 3,235 days since the coastal town of Vila-real has felt the butterflies in their collective stomach like they will today: eight years, 10 months and eight days have passed since Villarreal last had a genuine chance to make a final. The Yellow Submarine reached the Europa League last four in 2010-11 but Radamel Falcao’s four goals in the return leg at the Estádio do Dragão had taken any real options away before Porto travelled to Vila-real for the second leg. Back in April 2006, Manuel Pellegrini’s Villarreal were within touching distance of the Champions League final but were unable to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first game at Highbury. Arsenal were on the ropes in El Madrigal and had Juan Román Riquelme not missed a penalty in the 90th minute. Many observers thought that the side from the tiny seaside town would never get that close again. It had been the same story two years earlier in the Uefa Cup: a Mista penalty was enough to separate Valencia and Villarreal after 180 minutes of semi-final play.
Since then many things have come to pass (Villarreal went down to Segunda in 2012) but today the Yellow Submarine can dream again. Sergio Asenjo stopping Neymar’s penalty in Camp Nou gave Villarreal hope going into the second leg of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final in El Madrigal. “We need a title,” said Marcelino some time ago and the Villarreal manager knows that the intensity and speed with which his side are out of the blocks could knock Barcelona off balance. Luis Enrique’s side hold a 3-1 advantage from the first leg.
As the Barça coach said, his side are not going on holiday by the coast. But he added ominously that his side are “in an optimal moment for this match.” Barcelona are in good form, but they will not be overconfident. Leo Messi is in “I want the Ballon d’Or again” mood; Luis Suárez is hungry; Ivan Rakitic, consolidated, and Javier Mascherano the side’s on-field general. Furthermore, Barcelona reaching a final will be nothing new, although they will be eager to get their hands back on a trophy they missed out on last year to Real Madrid and haven’t won since 2012.
Villarreal will try to play the same high-pressing game they did in the Bernabéu last Sunday, moving the ball around quickly and attacking at speed. Barcelona applauded that match and in particular man of the moment, Luciano Vietto, who will try to narrow Barça’s advantage as early as possible.
Villarreal’s incredible season so far has been based on the side’s solidity and ability to operate as a single unit. At home in the cup competitions, several results the Submarine have pulled out of the hat would more than serve them on Wednesday: 4-0 against Apollon, 4-1 against FC Zurich, 3-0 against Cádiz… in the league El Madrigal has also been profitable, with Real Sociedad, Depor, Almería, Athletic and Granada all losing by two goals as well. However, after three meetings this season already between the clubs, Barcelona hold a 3-0 record over Villarreal.