For both Sporting Club de Portugal and Villarreal the Europa League, so often an unwelcome distraction for many of Europe’s biggest clubs, was an appreciated break from league football. Villarreal find themselves in a relegation scarp entering the final third of the season, sitting at an unthinkable 19th in La Liga.
For Sporting, the season has been littered with controversy. The fallout from club in-fighting this summer, and the resulting loss of key players, has severely hampered any true title challenge. Because of this the opportunity to compete in European competition and the prestige that comes with it helps to buoy the mood of both sets of supporters.
Villarreal opted to start the match in a hybrid version of a 3-4-2-1 shape. Carlos Bacca played up front on his own, with Pablo Fornals and Samuel Chukwueze flanking the forward on either side. Manu Trigueros, playing centrally alongside Javi Fuego, was given license to roam forward by the latter and join the attack when necessary. In terms of absences, El Submarino Amarillo had no changes enforced upon them. Sergio Asenjo, Santi Cazorla, and Vicente Iborra were all left out of manager Javier Calleja’s own accord.
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