Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo is set to face his former club when the Yellow Submarine host Atlético Madrid, and if the visitors’ away credentials are anything to go by, the Spaniard will have to be at his very best.
Diego Simeone’s team have twice cruised to five-goal away victories in less than a month, first against Sevilla in mid-February, and most recently in their ruthless Antione Griezmann-inspired display at Lokomotiv Moscow, which saw them advance to the Europa League quarter-finals.
As for Villarreal, a 2-0 away win at Las Palmas regained some much-needed momentum after a poor run of results had left them at risk of slipping down the table.
Javier Calleja’s team will be wary of the unrelenting form of Pablo Machín’s Girona side, who are close on their heels and performing wonders in La Liga.
In fact, the race for European football next season remains incredibly tight with a cluster of teams vying for the same reward. Currently, only six points separate Sevilla in fifth and Eibar in tenth.
Atleti out of title race
For Atlético, defeat at the Camp Nou means any smidgen of hope they had in overtaking Barcelona for the La Liga crown becomes even more dented and hard to believe.
Nevertheless, with the Europa League trophy still a realistic prospect, as well as the bragging rights of finishing above Real Madrid in the table, the remaining nine league fixtures will be of high importance.
The last meeting between the two sides resulted in a 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano last October, with striker Carlos Bacca striking late to snatch a satisfying point for Villarreal.
With both teams approaching this fixture having achieved victories in their previous outings, this could prove to be an exciting clash. Atlético have won their last three games by three-goal margins, while Villarreal will try to maximise their home advantage.
No surprise, the man to watch will likely be Antoine Griezmann who is playing with a class and swagger to win almost any match for Atlético.
The match at the Estadio de la Cerámica begins at 17:30 GMT.
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Bonera, Álvaro, Jaume Costa; Hernández, Castillejo, Trigueros, Fornals; Sansone, Bacca.
Atlético Madrid: Oblak; Vrsaljko, Giménez, Godín, Lucas; Gabi, Saúl, Koke, Vitolo; Griezmann, Diego Costa.