The contest was initially due to take place before the winter break in Spain, but Real Madrid's involvement in the Club World Cup meant that it had to be rescheduled before La Liga officially starts again this weekend.
Three wins, six draws and seven defeats – that is how Villarreal have performed in La Liga this season. It has brought them 15 points, which has left them in 18th position in the table after 16 matches of the 2018-19 campaign.
There is no getting away from the fact that it has been a desperately disappointing season for the Yellow Submarine. It was not a surprise that Javier Calleja lost his job as head coach last month, with Luis Garcia now at the helm.
Garcia has taken charge of two matches since stepping into the position - following a 2-0 win over Spartak Moscow in the Europa League with a 2-2 draw against Huesca in La Liga just before the international break.
Since returning to La Liga for the 2013-14 campaign, Villarreal have finished sixth, sixth, fourth, fifth and fifth. Many would have fancied them to enjoy a similar position this term, but it looks like it could be a difficult second half of the season for a team which is full of talent.
Goals have been an issue this season, with just 17 in their 16 league fixtures. Only five teams have managed fewer in Spain's top flight this season, while only two sides - Athletic Bilbao and Huesca - have won fewer league matches.
It seems unthinkable that Villarreal could drop back into the Segunda, although there is still a lot of football to be played this season. The Yellow Submarine are just six points off 11th position, and there is no question that the team has enough quality to move up the division over the next couple of months.
The fact that Villarreal are back in La Liga action at this stage of 2019 is not ideal, but they are unbeaten in the two matches under Garcia's leadership, and Thursday provides them with the perfect chance to start the new year with a bang.
Recent form: DDWLLD
Recent form (all competitions): DLWLWD
Real Madrid became Club World Cup winners for a fourth time when they beat Al Ain 4-1 in the final of the 2018 competition on December 22. The European champions have now won that competition in each of the last three years, while the latest title saw them become the most successful team in the history of the tournament.
Securing more silverware is always a positive, but Madrid have serious ground to make up in La Liga if they wish to challenge Barcelona & Co. for the crown. As it stands, Santiago Solari's side are fourth in the table, eight points off leaders Barcelona with a game - the trip to Villarreal - in hand.
Atletico Madrid are five points ahead of Real in second, while Sevilla have 32 points to Real's 29 in third. Solari's team will fancy their chances of putting a win on the board on Thursday night, but they have already suffered five La Liga defeats during the first half of the 2018-19 campaign.
It was always going to be difficult to cope without the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo, but Gareth Bale has not stepped up to the extent that many thought that he would. Bale hit a hat-trick against Kashima Antlers in the semi-finals of the 2018 Club World Cup, but has managed just four La Liga goals this term.
Real Madrid have actually only scored 24 league goals this season, which is 24 fewer than Barcelona. Sevilla, Levante, Celta Vigo and Atletico have all netted more times in La Liga this term, and that will be a concern to Solari.
Los Blancos are entering a busy run of games as they face Villarreal and Real Sociedad in their next two La Liga matches before visiting Real Betis either side of a two-legged Copa del Rey clash with Leganes. The Champions League does not resume until February though, with Madrid facing a round-of-16 clash with Ajax.
Barcelona are going to be difficult to stop in the league this season as Lionel Messi continues to shine, but Real, who have won five of their last six in La Liga, are still just about in the title race despite some questionable form in the first half of the campaign.
Recent form: WWLWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWWW
Villarreal will be without the services of skipper Mario Gaspar following his red card in the draw with Huesca last time out.
There should also be a spot in the XI for in-demand attacker Samuel Chukwueze. The 19-year-old, who has been linked with Arsenal, has scored six times in all competitions for his Spanish club this season.
As for Madrid, Mariano Diaz will definitely miss the match with a back problem. A thigh injury is expected to rule Marco Asensio out, meanwhile, which harms Solari's options in the final third of the field.
Casemiro returned from an ankle problem during the Club World Cup, but Marcos Llorente's excellent form in the middle of the park should see the Spaniard continue alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Lucas Vazquez is expected to keep his spot in the final third after showing some impressive form in recent weeks.
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Asenjo; Ruiz, Funes Mori, Alvaro, Costa; Chukwueze, Cazorla, Trigueros, Fornals; Moreno, Bacca
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Llorente, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Lucas
Head To Head
The pair played out a 2-2 draw when they met in the corresponding La Liga match last season.
Villarreal won 1-0 at the Bernabeu last January, meanwhile, and Real Madrid have actually been victorious in just one of the last four La Liga meetings between the two teams.
Villarreal's last home league win over Madrid was a 1-0 success in December 2015.
We say: Villarreal 1-2 Real Madrid
We expect a tight match on Thursday night, but are backing Madrid to record a narrow victory to close the gap on Barcelona to five points. Bale and Benzema on the scoresheet in a 2-1 Los Blancos win.