Villarreal v Monaco – Wednesday 7.45pm, BT Sport Extra 2
Villarreal’s season has started in turmoil after their impressive manager Marcelino was sacked just last week after a dispute with the board. He led them to victory in the battle behind the ‘Big Three’ last term for the first time since 2011/12 but Fran Escriba is the man in charge now and his first match in charge is arguably Villarreal’s most important of the season in something of a baptism of fire.
The Yellow Submarine are also in trouble on the pitch, with key striker Roberto Soldado unlikely to play any further part this season after rupturing his cruciate ligament in a pre-season game. Furthermore, new winger Cheryshev and striker Bakambu are also sidelined, leaving the club very short of attacking options. That was already the weaker side of their game and they’ve also lost the impressive Eric Bailly at the back, with the centre-back moving to Man Utd this summer, while several other first team players remain doubts.
Monaco got their campaign up and running with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Guingamp, but importantly they’ve kept hold of their best players this summer while reinforcing at the back. Their away record in Europe over the last two seasons reads a respectable W3-D3-L4 and they overcame a difficult tie against Fenerbahce to make it to this play-off.
If we’d written this preview a week ago we might have expected a home win but in light of recent events at Villarreal there’s a fantastic opportunity for Monaco to put themselves in a commanding position in this tie and put in another impressive away performance in Europe after they won at the Emirates a couple of seasons ago.