Villarreal will take on an in-form Roma side at El Madrigal on Thursday evening as the Europa League knockout phases begin. Going into the Round of 32 fixture, Luciano Spalletti’s side have taken maximum points from five of their last six Serie A encounters and sit just ahead of Napoli in second place.
Fans of Villarreal should look no further than the capital club’s recent 4-0 demolition of Fiorentina to see what they may bring to the fixture, with veteran Daniele De Rossi instrumental in the centre of the pitch. Rested in their subsequent match with Crotone, the 33-year-old provided two assists in a single game for the first time in five years as his passing proved key to victory against the Viola.
However, as his side romped to their all-time league record of 14 consecutive home victories, it was not just the Rome-native that impressed that evening. The Giallorossi attack provided a constant threat in a dominant performance, terrorising Fiorentina’s three-man backline with lightening pace.
Wing-backs Bruno Peres and Emerson certainly fit into this bracket, along with wingers Stephan El Shaarawy and Mohamed Salah, the latter having recently returned as a losing finalist with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The former Chelsea man has scored eight goals and provided four assists in 15 league appearances, with the club’s fans certainly grateful to have him back. Together with high-energy central midfielder Radja Nainggolan, Roma have registered more touches in the opposition box than any other side this term.
Villarreal may well concede a goal to Edin Dzeko, the former Manchester City striker netting against Crotone to make it 18 league goals for the campaign. The Bosnian currently leads the Serie A leading scorers chart with that tally, but this perhaps does not tell the full story of his season. Taking heavy criticism from both supporters and the media, Dzeko has also been guilty of wasting chances, taking an incredible 125 shots to achieve his total.
In defence, Azzurri international full-back Alessandro Florenzi is only just in the final stages of a return from an ACL injury, and Roma have often deployed a three-man defensive lineup in his absence. This consists of highly sought-after centre-back Kostas Manolas, former Tottenham man Federico Fazio and German international Antonio Rudiger - all accomplished in their positions.
Their defensive organisation has seen them concede just 21 goals in 24 matches, and no team has let in fewer strikes from set pieces in Serie A this term. Fran Escriba should expect to be kept guessing however, as Spalletti has favoured a four-man defence in Europe, dropping Bruno Peres into the right-back slot and selecting Juan Jesus on the left.
Historically, Roma have enjoyed mixed fortunes against Spanish sides, having won 11 and lost 15 in 30 matches played. Whilst Villarreal have conceded a mere 14 goals in the league this term but have struggled to score, the Giallorossi have conversely scored more goals than league leaders Juventus with 48 after 23 games. This encounter will no doubt provide an fascinating test for both sides as they bid to reach the final in Sweden.