Evening all! Week 15 in La Liga begins this evening as Villarreal welcome Malaga. One team has their sights firmly set on the Champions League, but it is not Malaga, despite the club reaching the quarter-finals of the European competition last season. Another three points for the Yellow Submarine would move them to within four points of third-placed Real Madrid.
VILLARREAL: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel, J. Costa; Aquino, Bruno, Trigueros, Cani; Pereira, Uche
MALAGA: Caballero; J. Gamez, S. Sanchez, Weligton, Antunes; Tissone; Samuel, Darder, Camacho, Eliseu; Juanmi
So there we have it. Giovani dos Santos is only fit enough for a place on the Villarreal bench this evening, but Jonathan Pereira and Javier Aquino both start. As expected, Bruno and Cani also continue in midfield. Malaga, meanwhile, recall Ignacio Camacho to their midfield. There is no Roque Santa Cruz, however, meaning that Juanmi will lead the line.
It wasn’t as if Villarreal were expected to struggle on their return to La Liga this season, but few could have predicted just how well they would start the season. They have lost just once on their own patch this season, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both failing to take all three points. They have also scored 14 times in this stadium this season.
That said, their away form has also been incredibly strong with four wins, one draw and just two defeats on their travels. Many expected them to fall away after a bright start to the season, but fellow contenders for fourth – the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Valencia – have all had their problems in the early part of the season.
In terms of their recent form, Villarreal have lost just one of their last five in the league. They have put in some impressive performances this season and another came last time out when they put three past Levante on the road. Not only would another win this evening move close to Real Madrid, it would hand them a four-point gap over fifth-place Athletic Bilbao.
Malaga, meanwhile, have largely struggled thus far. A return of just 13 points from their 14 matches has left them in 14th spot in the table, just one point off the bottom three. All three of their league wins this season have come on their own patch, with four draws and three defeats on their travels in La Liga.
They have won just one of their last five games in the league, although it was an important one as they collected all three points with a 3-2 win over Real Betis. Since then, however, they have lost back-to-back games against Granada and Athletic Bilbao. It seems unthinkable that they could drop out of the division this season, but they are really struggling.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two sides, both have won two of the last five, with the other ending in a draw. As mentioned, the last time the pair met in this stadium was in April 2012, when Villarreal were 2-1 winners. However, Malaga did collect a point in a 1-1 draw when they made the trip in February 2011.
PREDICTION: Malaga certainly have the tools to hurt Villarreal this evening, but I am not convinced that they will see enough of the ball throughout the 90 minutes. On paper, the home side have more about them, and I expect that to be the case on the pitch. I am backing a 3-1 home win at the Camp El Madrigal.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. You just get the feeling that the first goal - if we indeed have one - could be vital in this type of match. The away side get the action underway on this mild evening in Spain.
Villarreal are in their normal yellow home strip this evening, while Malaga take to the field in blue and white. The first challenge from Sanchez is a feisty one as the Malaga defender fells Uche in the middle of the park. However, the resulting free kick breaks down when Cani attempts to force one towards Pereira, who had made an early run into the box.
PENALTY SHOUT! Big penalty shout for the away side as Eliseu is felled inside the box by Jaume Costa, but the referee is not interested. For me, it is about as clear a penalty as you will ever see. Has it come too early in the match?
Half-chance for the home side as Cani delivers a wicked cross into the Malaga box, but Uche cannot make contact under pressure from Weligton. Malaga are down the other end moments later and this time Eliseu does gain a decision as he is felled outside the box. However, the resulting set piece is cleared by Trigueros.
Plenty happening in the opening eight minutes of action with both sides prepared to commit numbers in the final third. It has been a bright start from Eliseu, while Darder and Samuel have also had their moments for Malaga. The away side have managed to quieten the crowd, which is half the battle in this stadium. Still no clear opportunities for either team, however, despite the intensity.
Half-chance for Malaga this time as a long ball causes Mario all sorts of problems. Eventually Juanmi has an effort on goal, but Sergio Asenjo is on hand to collect with ease. Villarreal are down the other end moments later with Uche, but the attack breaks down when the striker fells Sanchez. There seems to be a battle developing between those two.
Malaga have had their problems this season, but in Darder, Juanmi and Samuel, they have three exciting youngsters that are impressing in the early stages of this match. Not one for the faint-hearted at the moment as the challenges continue to arrive in the middle of the park. Sanchez meets a cross from Eliseu moments later, but his header just flicks wide of the post.
Not too much to report in terms of opportunities in the last couple of moments, but the tempo of the occasion remains. Malaga have certainly been the more inventive in the final third, however, with the likes of Antunes and Gamez prepared to venture forward. Two corners arrive in quick succession for Malaga, but the danger is cleared.
Another half-chance for Sanchez as the Malaga defender meets a corner from Eliseu, but his effort was always moving wide of the post. Villarreal are just finding it difficult to probe in the final third, meanwhile, with Weligton impressing in blue. Can Malaga score during this impressive spell?
Bad news for Samuel as the Malaga forward injures his knee in a challenge with Trigueros, but it does appear that he will be fit to continue. It has been stop-start in the last couple of minutes with a series of tackles arriving from both sides. Still goalless after what has been a high-tempo opening 19 minutes of football.
Samuel does indeed return to the field, but it does seem unlikely that he will last as he hobbles around the pitch. Fabrice Olinga would be the obvious replacement at this stage of proceedings. The first yellow card of the match arrives moments later as Camacho fells Cani down the right.
Indeed the change is made as Samuel hits the deck and signals that he cannot continue. His replacement is another exciting youngster as Fabrice enters proceedings. That is a blow for Malaga, who have been the better side in the opening 22 minutes. It would not be a surprise to see a red card issued this evening as the challenges continue to arrive.
CHANCE! First real chance for the home side as Uche finds some space in the middle of the Malaga box, but Caballero is on hand to make a fine save. It is no surprise that the Argentine has been linked with a move to Manchester City. A half-chance arrives from the resulting corner, but Mario heads high and wide of the target.
Half-chance for Malaga this time as Tissone collects a loose ball outside the box before attempting to find the bottom corner, but Asenjo is on hand to make the save. Villarreal are down the other end with Bruno moments later, but Uche heads wide from an offside position after bright work from Pereira. How on earth did he miss regardless of the flag?!
Villarreal continue to impress as Aquino strikes one from outside the box, but his effort never had enough power to really trouble Caballero. Not too much from Malaga since Samuel was withdrawn, which is not much of a surprise. Still goalless with little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining in this La Liga clash.
The end-to-end period of the match continues as Fabrice breaks for Malaga, before Bruno loses possession inside the away side's box moments later. Both defences are struggling to deal with the long ball at the moment, which is creating an exciting match each time the ball is in the air. The referee is struggling to get hold of proceedings, meanwhile, as the challenges continue to arrive.
GOAL! Villarreal 1-0 Malaga (Bruno)
Villarreal take the lead after 32 minutes through their skipper Bruno. It's wonderful work from Costa, who drives past two defenders before finding Cani, who puts it on a plate for Bruno in the middle of the box. It is harsh on Malaga, but the pressure had been building in the last five minutes or so.
Malaga just need to be a little bit careful here as they continue to launch players forward, which is leaving space for Villarreal to exploit. Should the home side score again this half, it would be difficult for Malaga to respond. The stadium is bouncing with little over 10 minutes of the first period remaining.
Again it's bright work from the home side as Aquino carries the ball into the Malaga half before finding Pereira, but the Spaniard had just moved into an offside position. Not too much from Malaga in the last few moments, however, as the home team continue to dominate possession. Little over five minutes of the first period remaining.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Malaga to level as Camacho delivers a wicked cross into the Villarreal box, but there are no takers at the far post. You have to wonder whether the away side will be made to regret not taking the lead after such a bright start. The next goal - if there indeed is one - could be decisive.
Again it is wonderful work from Cani as the Villarreal midfielder twists and turns outside the box before delivering a cross towards Uche, but Darder is on hand to clear the danger. The resulting corner falls to Uche, but once more a block is made. Malaga are really struggling in the latter stages of the first period.
Another yellow card for Malaga as Juanmi enters the book for arguing with the referee. A free kick arrives for the away side moments later just outside the Villarreal box, but it comes to nothing as Mario clears the danger. I shouldn't expect that there will be too much injury time at the end of the first period. Perhaps one minute due to the injury suffered by Samuel.
HALF-TIME: Villarreal 1-0 Malaga
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to an end with Villarreal leading Malaga by the single goal. The strike arrived after 32 minutes when Bruno converted a Cani cross. Malaga started brightly, but have been unable to threaten since Samuel was forced off through injury.
STATISTICS: Malaga have had more of the possession with 59%, while both sides have had four attempts. However, Villarreal have hit the target twice, with Malaga failing to test Asenjo thus far. Two yellow cards have arrived for the away side, meanwhile, with Juanmi and Camacho both entering the book.
BENCH WATCH: Villarreal have a number of attacking options on their bench in the shape of Giovani dos Santos, Perbet and Perez. Meanwhile, Malaga have the likes of Duda, Morales and Pawlowski in reserve. However, they have already been forced into a change with Fabrice replacing the injured Samuel after just 20 minutes.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second period at the Camp El Madrigal. Just a reminder that there is another La Liga clash currently taking place, with Getafe drawing 0-0 with Levante on their own patch. No changes for either side at the interval as Villarreal get the second period of action underway.
You just get the feeling that the next goal - if we indeed have one - could decide the outcome of the match. At 1-1, anything could happen, but Malaga would find it very difficult to recover from two goals behind. Bright start from Malaga as Juanmi drives a low cross into the box, but Asenjo is across to collect at the vital moment.
Villarreal's first half-chance of the second period arrives from a deep Cani free kick, but the offside flag was raised at the final moment. The home side launch another attack through Uche moments later, but his effort is straight into the arms of Caballero. Plenty happening in the early stages of the second period, but Villarreal remain just the one goal ahead.
Aquino continues to impress for the home side as he breaks past two defenders before finding the run of Cani, but once more the offside flag is raised. Neither side has really threatened to open the scoring in the second period, but Malaga have been more involved in the final third. It would not be a surprise if both managers were already thinking about making changes in the next 10 minutes or so.
Half-chance for the away side as Eliseu collects a deep pass from Antunes before driving into the Villarreal box, but he just loses control at the vital moment, allowing Asenjo out to collect. Another attack arrives for Malaga moments later, but Mario repels the danger with a fine block following a powerful shot from Darder.
Villarreal again threaten on the counter as Uche leads a three-on-two situation, but Aquino just picks the wrong pass at the vital moment, much to the frustration of the home supporters. The end-to-end period of the match continues as Eliseu breaks down the right, but his cross is straight into the arms of Asenjo.
Fabrice continues to look the most likely for the away side as he combines with Darder before delivering a dangerous cross into the box, but once more Asenjo is on hand to collect. Both managers are parading the touchline at the moment as both consider changes with little more than 30 minutes of football remaining. Villarreal still lead by one goal.
Villarreal are indeed preparing a change with Giovani close to entering proceedings. That is not much of a surprise with the likes of Uche and Pereira struggling in the second period. Still no movement on the Malaga bench, but options are available. Possession football from Malaga moments later, but the move breaks down when Eliseu attempts to force the issue.
Both sides make changes as Giovani replaces Pereira for Villarreal. Meanwhile, Malaga introduce Morales in place of Tissone, who has struggled to influence proceedings in the second period. Little over 25 minutes of football remaining in this La Liga fixture. You just get the feeling that we have not seen the last of the goals.
RESULT: Getafe 1-0 Levante - Getafe have beaten Levante this evening courtesy of a strike from Pedro Leon after 79 minutes.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the home side to score their second as Cani finds some space down the right before finding Giovani inside the box, but the Mexican can only fire his effort high and wide of the crossbar. It has been another classy performance from Cani this evening.
CHANCE! Malaga's best chance of the match arrives after 69 minutes as Morales collects a loose save from Asenjo inside the box, but his effort is wide of the post. The initial strike from Eliseu had produced a smart stop from the Villarreal stopper.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of moments, with the referee forced to deal with a number of challenges from both sides. It is a surprise that we have not seen more yellow cards in the second period. Just a reminder that Malaga have one permitted change remaining, while Villarreal have two.
Half-chance for Uche to score Villarreal's second as the Nigerian collects possession just inside the Malaga box, but he loses control at the vital moment, allowing Antunes to clear the danger. Bruno forces the issue for Villarreal moments later, but Cani had moved into an offside position. Little over 15 minutes of football remaining in the Camp El Madrigal.
First real involvement for Giovani as the Mexican drives down the right before finding a low cross into the Malaga box, but there are no takers. Malaga are down the other end moments later, but the attack breaks down when Bruno fells Darder. Villarreal make their second change, meanwhile, as Pina replaces Trigueros.
Malaga make their third and final change of the match as Anderson replaces Darder, who has been forced off with an injury. It has been a costly evening for Malaga in terms of injuries. Little over 10 minutes of football remaining and Villarreal still lead courtesy of that strike from Bruno in the first period.
Not too much in terms of chances in the last few moments, with both sides guilty of losing possession too easily in the final third. In truth, neither side has really threatened to open the scoring in the second period. However, you just get the feeling that there will be some late drama. Malaga will argue that they are worth at least a point here.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Giovani to put this game to bed as the Mexican collects a loose ball inside the Malaga box, but he just loses control at the vital moment, allowing Caballero to clear. The home side make their third and final change moments later as Perez replaces Uche.
The seriousness of the injuries suffered by Samuel and Darder this evening are not yet clear, but it could easily be a couple of weeks out of action for both. Villarreal continue to pressure in the latter stages as Cani delivers a dangerous cross into the box, but Antunes is on hand to clear. Little over five minutes of the first period remaining.
Another half-chance for the home side as Cani collects possession outside the box, but his effort is high and wide of the target. Not too much from Malaga in the last five minutes or so, however, with Villarreal comfortable in defence. Will there be late drama?
End-to-end football in the last couple of moments as Cani manages to take possession from Anderson before setting up a counter, but the move breaks down in the final third, before Fabrice is found offside down the other end. The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional three minutes at the end of normal time.
CHANCE! It's wonderful work from Giovani as the Mexican drives into the Malaga box before finding Aquino, but Antunes is across to make a fine block at the vital moment. Moments before, the Mexican had been denied by a smart stop from Caballero.
GOAL! Villarreal 1-1 Malaga (Weligton)
Oh my word. Malaga rescue a point in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Weligton heads past Asenjo from inside the box. Caballero had come forward and caused problems with his presence inside the box. What a finish.
FULL-TIME: Villarreal 1-1 Malaga
So there we have it. Malaga rescue a point in stoppage time as they draw 1-1 with Villarreal. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and be sure to join us tomorrow for more La Liga football. Until then!