Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa Conference League clash between Villarreal and Hajduk Split, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Villarreal will look to take a step closer to that European Conference League group stage on Thursday, when they welcome Hajduk Split to Spain for the first leg of their playoff tie.
The visitors scraped past Vitoria de Guimaraes in the third round to reach this stage, meanwhile Unai Emery‘s side are yet to play in qualification so far this season, instead entering in the final round before the tournament begins.
Villarreal find themselves in Europa Conference League qualifying after a slightly disappointing La Liga season last time around, as Unai Emery’s side eventually finished seventh with 59 points from 38 league outings.
They did, however, enjoy more success on the continent, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League as they first advanced through the group stage in second place before beating Juventus and Bayern Munich in impressive fashion on their way to the final four.
That saw the Yellow Submarine book a tie with Liverpool, and, after a 2-0 defeat at Anfield, they fought well to draw level through Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin in the second leg, only for the English giants to retake control in the second half and storm to a 5-2 aggregate win thanks to goals from Fabinho, Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane.
Having given an impressive account of themselves on the continental stage after winning the Europa League in the previous campaign, Villarreal may be disappointed to find themselves battling in Europe’s third competition, and they head into their playoff tie on the back of an opening-day La League win over Real Valladolid at the weekend.
Nicolas Jackson opened the scoring soon after half time before Alex Baena sealed all three points with a late brace, and potentially being eyed up as one of the sides heavily fancied to challenge for the Conference League trophy this season, they will be desperate to take a lead on home turf in their playoff tie on Thursday.
They welcome a Hajduk Split side who have already had to battle through a qualifying round after their second-placed finish in the Croatian top flight last season.
The Majstori s mora were drawn against Portuguese outfit Vitoria de Guimaraes, and they took a 3-1 lead into the away match thanks to goals from Emir Sahiti, Dario Melnjak and Filip Krovinovic.
That lead was quickly halved in the second leg, as well Anderson put their opponents 1-0 up on the night in the opening five minutes, but Valdas Dambrauskas‘s side held on to see out an aggregate victory and advance to the playoff.
Now on the back of a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of league leaders Dinamo Zagreb in their third league outing of the season, after back-to-back victories to start, Hajduk Split will look to defy the odds and earn a positive result at the Estadio de la Ceramica before welcoming Villarreal to Croatia.
Villarreal form (all competitions):
Hajduk Split Europa Conference League form:
Hajduk Split form (all competitions):
Hoping for some form of continental action this season, Emery should deploy a full-strength Villarreal side on Thursday, with star forward Gerard Moreno set to feature in attack.
Francis Coquelin, Etienne Capoue and Dani Parejo are all looking to feature in midfield with Samuel Chukwueze and new signing Jose Luis Morales also hoping to come in on the wings, while Pau Torres should operate in the middle of the back line, alongside either Jorge Cuenca or veteran Raul Albiol.
Alex Baena will give Emery another selection headache in attack, as he will hope to be rewarded with a start after coming off the bench to hit a brace in the win over Real Valladolid, in which Nicolas Jackson also netted his first goal for the first team .
Hajduk Split’s attack should be led by Marko Livajawho has netted three goals in the opening three league games of the season.
Emir Sahiti is another attacking threat on the right wing, while former West Bromwich Albion man Filip Krovinovic remains a key player in midfield.
Further back, Vitoria de Guimaraes loanee Tony Borevkovic will hope for a first continental start for the side after being ineligible to play against his parent club in the third round, with Josip Elez and Stefan Simic both trying to keep their places.
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Roller; Foyth, Torres, Cuenca, Pedraza; Chukwueze, Parejo, Coquelin, Morales; Baena, Moreno
Hajduk Split possible starting lineup:
Kalinic; Mikanovic, Borevkovic, Simic, Melnjak; Grgic, Vukovic; Sahiti, Krovinovic, Colina; Liva
We say: Villarreal 2-0 Hajduk Split
While we are yet to see whether Villarreal will truly prioritize building a run in Europe’s third competition, they should still have more than enough to beat Hajduk Split on home turf.
Emery has plenty of quality throughout his squad if he opts to rotate, and their array of attacking talent will likely overpower the Croatian visitors.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.