Sports Mole previews Thursday’s Europa Conference League clash between Villarreal and Lech Poznan, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Villarreal will take on Lech Poznan on Thursday in the first round of European Conference League group-stage fixtures.
The Yellow Submarine cruised past Hajduk Split in the playoff round while their opponents had to fight through a longer qualifying run to reach Europe’s tertiary competition.
It may be somewhat supposing to see Villarreal featuring in the group stage of Europe’s third competition this season, given how Unai Emery‘s side impressed last year on the biggest stage with a run to the Champions League semi-finals.
The Yellow Submarine finished second in their group and fought past giants Juventus and Bayern Munich in two-legged knockout contests before eventually meeting Liverpool, and, after a 2-0 home defeat, they looked to have staged a comeback at Anfield only for the Reds to retake control and win 5-2 on aggregate.
With no prize for a semi-final appearance, their underwhelming seventh-placed finish was only good enough to earn Villarreal a place in the playoff round of the Europa Conference League, and they comfortably beat Hajduk Split, firstly triumphing 4-2 on home soil thanks to a Jose Luis Morales brace and a Gerard Moreno finish, as well as an own goal Marko Livaja after an opening-day 3-0 La Liga win over Real Valladolid.
Emery’s men then continued their perfect start to the Spanish top-flight season with an impressive 2-0 victory away at Atletico Madrid, courtesy of goals from Jeremiah Pino and Moreno, before winning by the same scoreline in their second leg in Croatia as well Alfonso Pedraza and Samuel Chukwueze got on the scoresheet to fire them through to the group stage.
Now on the back of a 4-0 thrashing of Elche, in which Moreno and Morales were again among the goals alongside Giovani Lo Celso and Francis Coquelinmoving onto 10 points from four league outings as a result, Villarreal will look to put a three-point haul on the board on the continent to immediately establish themselves at the top of the group as one of the favorites for the trophy this season.
Their visitors make the trip to Spain hoping to cause an upset after fighting through several rounds of continental fixtures, first entering the Champions League qualifying and dropping out at the hands of Qarabag.
They would then join the second round of Conference League qualifying and cruise past Dinamo Batumi with a 6-1 aggregate win before fighting from behind to dump out Vikingur Reykjavik and progress to the playoff.
The Polish outfit were drawn against Diddeleng and took a 2-0 lead on home turf through Christopher Velde and Mikael Isaacbefore Joel Pereira leveled the second leg at a goal apiece to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory for the Kolejorz.
John van den Brom‘s side now head into their group stage curtain-raiser on the back of three straight league wins, getting up and running in their bid to retain the Ekstraklasa title after a slow start, having most recently beaten Widzew 2-0 thanks to goals from João Amaral and Ishak, and they will aim to build on those results with what would be an eye-catching away result on Thursday.
Villarreal Europa Conference League form:
Villarreal form (all competitions):
Lech Poznan Europa Conference League form:
Lech Poznan form (all competitions):
Unai Emery deployed relatively strong Villarreal sides for their playoff games against Hajduk Split, albeit with some rotations, and the likes of Gerard Moreno and Dani Parejo may be rested with veteran goalkeeper Pepe Reina replacing first-choice stopper Geronimo Rulli between the sticks.
Summer signing Jose Luis Morales should come back in to lead the line from the outset after his brace in the first leg and goal off the bench against Elche last time out, while the likes of Alex BaenaSamuel Chukwueze, Yeremi Pino and Nicolas Jackson are also in contention for attacking spots.
Manu Morlanes should come back into the midfield while Jorge Cuenca and Aissa Mandi will likely partner up at the heart of the back four, allowing a break for Pau Torres and Raul Albiol.
Lech Poznan’s attack will again be led by captain Mikael Ishak, who has netted six goals in 12 appearances so far this season including three in five Conference League qualifying games.
Defender Antonio Milic will return to contention after serving a suspension in the second leg of their win over Dudelange, and he should rejoin Maksymilian Pingot in the middle of their back four for the trip to Spain, while former Leeds United and Wolverhampton Wanderers man Barry Douglas will be pushing to come in on the left-hand side of the defense.
Joao Amaral will again lend support to Ishak up front, meanwhile Michal Skoras and Kristoffer Velde should continue to operate on the flanks in a 4-2-3-1 setup.
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Reina; Femenia, Cuenca, Mandi, Pedraza; Chukwueze, Coquelin, Morlanes, Baena; Jackson, Morales
Lech Poznan possible starting lineup:
Bednarek; Pereira, Milic, Pingot, Rebocho; Murawski, Karlstrom; Skoras, Amaral, Velde; Isaac
We say: Villarreal 3-0 Lech Poznan
Emery will likely rotate his squad slightly to ensure they remain fresh, but they have quality in abundance and should still have more than enough to cruise to a victory on home soil.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.