UEFA Europa League Group A starts with a very tough journey for Kazakh side Astana on Thursday as they go to Villarreal to face an historically strong side.
Estadio de la Ceramica, Vila-real, Spain 14 Sep 2017 5:00 pm (GMT)
Key Stat: Astana have just one win in their last 16 European matches.
Expert Verdict: Astana may have just one European win in their last 16, but it did come recently at the hands of Celtic in their home UCL playoff tie. They didn't go through, but they did show that they can put up a fight and have some good players. However, much like the trip to Celtic Park was, this is surely going to be a bridge too far for them. Villarreal are very used to matches like these, and it will prove to be a boon for them here.
Fran Escriba has a very long injury list to contend with. Goalkeepers Andres Fernandez and Sergio Asenjo join full backs Mario Gaspar an Adrian Marin, center back Daniel Bonera, defensive midfielder Bruno Soriano, left midfielder Roberto Soriano, and winger Denis Cheryshev as injured parties for this match.
After struggling for goals to start the season, Villarreal might just have gotten Colombian striker Carlos Bacca off and running on Sunday as he scored an equalizer to give his side the momentum to go on and get the win. Now that the 31 year old has scored, they will want him to follow up and continue with a streak of goals.
Villarreal have not started La Liga in great form this season. They lost their two opening matches, both away, to Levante and Real Sociedad. However, they did bounce back and get a 3-1 home win over Real Betis on Sunday.
Defenders:Rukavina, Gonzalez, Ruiz, Costa
Midfielders:Hernandez, Trigueros, Castillejo, Fornals
Stanimir Stoilov will be without attacking midfielder Laszlo Kleinhesler due to a knee injury.
One man that lit up the Champions League qualifying rounds was winger Patrick Twumasi. The Ghana winger scored five goals for this team, including two in the famous win over Celtic at home, to give them a chance to go as far as they did. He'll once again be a danger on the break against Villarreal.
The only losses Astana have suffered since June have been in European competition. They went out to Celtic in the Champions League, but they did win 4-3 over them in August and won on Saturday at home to Atyrau 7-0 to get ready for this match.
Defenders:Shitov, Postnikov, Anicic, Shomko
Midfielders:Maevskiy, Twumasi, Grahovac, Muzhikov, Tomasov
Villarreal and Astana have met before, and that meeting came back in the 2014/15 UEL playoff stage. Villarreal ran out 7-0 winners on aggregate that time around after a 0-3 win away and then a 4-0 win at home.
Bet365 have the following odds available for this match:
Villarreal are at 2/9 to win, a draw is at 11/2, and an FC Astana win is at 10/1.
It's going to be a tough match for FC Astana if they want to keep it close, and the bookmakers are spot on as a result with these odds. Villarreal are a very good team, and one that could just be competing for top four honors in Spain if they get their form sorted away from home.
But that won't be a problem in this match. They showed strength at home this past weekend, and they have that thumping over Astana three years ago to look back on. It should make for smooth sailing.
Villarreal do have some things to overcome, though, as they have dropped three of their last five European matches. Of course, Astana have lost ten out of their last 16, and have just the one win mentioned before.
Villarreal -2 handicap to win is at 7/4.
Villarreal, even with a changed side, should be able to grab a comfortable home win over FC Astana.