Villarreal welcome Champions League finalists Real Madrid to the Estadio de la Cerámica on Sunday in the last game of the league season for both sides.
Villarreal have already secured a spot in the Europa League group stages for next season, and Real Madrid have predictably finished within the Champions League places. The motivation for both clubs, therefore, will be merely to secure the highest possible league position that they can. A win for Real Madrid opens the possibility of a second place finish if Atletico Madrid fail to overcome ninth-placed Eibar on the same day; while Villarreal will be looking to consolidate a fifth-placed finish.
The Champions League final against Liverpool is on the horizon, but Real Madrid will be eager to put in one final display against a Villarreal in order to build momentum for the big game on 26th of May.
Here is everything you need to know ahead of the final day in La Liga:
The last time these two sides faced each other was back in January of this year, and Villarreal came out surprise winners against Los Blancos with Pablo Fornals grabbing the only goal of the game.
Real Madrid predictably dominated but the home team were uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. Madrid’s total of 28 shots included just seven that were on target. Madrid did have the ball in the net though. Cristiano Ronaldo flicked a Toni Kroos cross onto the head of Gareth Bale, but the Welshman’s close-range effort was correctly judged offside by the third official.
Villarreal looked dangerous on their rare forays into the Real Madrid half. Denis Cheryshev and Carlos Bacca nearly capitalised on Madrid’s hesitant defending, but the breakthrough came midway through the second period.
Cheryshev broke clear down the left hand side and found Enes Ünal in the penalty area. Ünal’s shot was well blocked by an onrushing Keylor Navas but it rebounded into the path of Fornals, who cooly dispatched a first-time chip over the goalkeepers head to settle the game.
Villarreal’s steely determination was characterised by Asenjo in goal for the away side, who’s efforts went a long way to sealing the win.
Before the half time interval the Spaniard denied rasping efforts from Marcelo and Ronaldo, but a heroic save late in the second-half to deny Ronaldo’s close-range effort was arguably his best.
Sergio Asenjo vs Gareth Bale
If Villarreal are to come away with something from Sunday’s game, they will need to contain an in-form Gareth Bale. The Welsh forward has scored seven in his last nine games, and turned in a man-of-the-match performance last time out against Celta Vigo.
Villarreal’s season has largely been defined by the man in the sticks, Sergio Asenjo, who will be the key to keeping Gareth Bale off the score sheet this weekend.
Villarreal have conceded a lot of chances this season as exemplified by the performance against Real Madrid in January, and their fifth-place league position can largely be attributed to Asenjo who has kept them in a number of games.
But the home team have conceded seven in their last two games, and Asenjo was remarkably poor in the 5-1 loss to Barcelona. He made just one save all game, and cannot replicate that performance if Villarreal want to take points off of Madrid on Sunday.
With the Champions League final quickly approaching Zinedine Zidane is expected to heavily rotate his squad for Sunday’s fixture, with youngsters Marcos Llorente and Borja Mayoral likely to be given the nod.
The game may also see the continued involvement of Gareth Bale who scored twice against Celta Vigo last weekend, in Madrid’s 6-0 victory. The Welshman will be looking to give Zidane a selection headache ahead of the Champions League final, with his form in recent weeks justifying his claim for a starting berth in Kiev.
Villarreal are still without Bruno Soriano, Ramiro Guerra and Rúben Semedo through injury, but the three stars have not made a big impact this season. It is likely that manager Javi Calleja will keep faith with the same back four that he has used all season, with Denis Cheryshev featuring on the left-hand side of the attack against his former club.
Potential Villarreal Starting Lineup: Asenjo Costs, Ruiz, Gonzalez, Gaspar; Trigueros, Rodri, Cheryshev, Fornals, Castillejo; Bacca.
Potential Real Madrid Starting Lineup: Navas, Hakimi, Vallejo, Ramos, Hernández; Vasquez, Kovacic, Llorente, Asensio; Bale, Mayoral.
It is difficult to know what to expect from Real Madrid in this fixture. The possible presence of numerous fringe players in the starting lineup may jeopardise their chances of taking anything from the game, especially with Villarreal in fine form.
Villarreal have won four of their last five home games in La Liga, with Valencia, Celta Vigo, Leganes and Atletico Madrid all recently falling short at La Ceramica.
Only Barcelona have triumphed over the Yellow Submarine since the middle of April, and the host’s form has allowed them to easily secure themselves a spot in the Europa League for next season.
With Los Blancos having their eyes firmly on the Champions League a tight game may be on the cards this Sunday.
Prediction: Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid