A tantalizing encounter awaits as Villarreal welcome Roma to the Estadio de la Cerámica for part one of their two-legged round of 32 tie on Thursday evening.
Last term, the Yellow Submarine made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League after bowing out of the Champions League group stage. A 1-0 first leg win, however, was rapidly overturned by Liverpool, who fought back to win the second leg 3-0. This time around, they again failed to qualify for the Champions League in a two-legged play-off with Monaco, during which they lost both home and away. Domestically, Fran Escribá’s side presently sit in a solid, but not spectacular sixth in La Liga and have yet to win a match this month.
Villarreal come into this game having had to settle for a one-all draw against Malaga over the weekend, and Fran Escribá arguably would prefer to face someone other than Roma. The team recently welcomed back veteran striker Roberto Soldado, but the experienced attacker has been out of action since August and it’s highly unlikely he will be risked for this match.
But why the concern about Roma? Well, for starters, the Yellow Submarine have netted just 29 goals in La Liga, whilst conceding 15. To put that in perspective, Roma have scored a whopping 50. Edin Dzeko alone has plundered 18, and the Giallorossi have given up just six more goals – 21 – than their upcoming opponents. The Lupi also have Mohamed Salah back with the squad after his exploits with Egypt at AFCON 2017, and are only second to Napoli in terms of goal-scoring after 24 round of action.
Roma’s 3-4-2-1 system is a unique one that has helped them rack up goals at an astonishing rate, and their once leaky defensive woes appear to have been addressed somewhat. A 4-0 demolition of Fiorentina to make it a record-setting 14 consecutive home wins will have given them even more confidence, but Luciano Spalletti may not want to ask Dzeko to take spot-kicks fora while. The Bosnian international could have had a brace against debutants Crotone had he converted from the spot, and that marks his second miss this term.
Alessandro Florenzi is the only notable absence for the visitors, who have truly been in impressive form. They have lost just three road fixtures since October. Their recent defeat to Sampdoria was quite surprising, whilst they dropped points against Juventus (which was not that shocking). All of their losses were by a one goal margin.
So, what does this spell for Villarreal? After shockingly losing to Porto at the Stadio Olimpico in their own Champions League play-off tie, the Lupi have taken to the Europa League like a proverbial duck to water. They made it through their group stage campaign sans defeat, and with the Scudetto out of their hands (unless if Juventus suffer a shocking collapse) Roma’s only chance at silverware are the Europa League (and the Coppa Italia). They will give their all and given the Yellow Submarine’s indifferent form, the hosts could be in for a tough tie at the formerly named El Madrigal.