Top-four hopefuls Villarreal will be bidding to continue their impressive run of form in La Liga when they welcome Rayo Vallecano on Monday night.
The home side are currently fifth in the table, level on points with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid, while Rayo have also been impressive this season, picking up 26 points to sit in ninth position.
Villarreal are unbeaten in La Liga since the start of November, winning four of their last five in the league, picking up 13 points in the process, which has left them just outside the top four in Spain’s top flight.
The Yellow Submarine were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Celta Vigo on January 13, but they managed to return to winning ways last time out, beating Girona 1-0 courtesy of a late penalty from Dani Parejo.
Villarreal’s Copa del Rey challenge was ended by Real Madrid on January 19, but they are in the knockout round of the Europa Conference League, having topped Group C ahead of Lech Poznan.
The team’s main focus for the rest of the season will be the league, though, and Quique Setien’s side are currently fifth, level on points (31) with fourth-placed Atletico on the same number of matches (18).
Villarreal have a record of nine wins, four draws and five defeats in the league this season, while they have the second-best defensive record behind Barcelona, conceding just 13 times.
The Yellow Submarine have also won their last three top-flight games against Rayo, including a 2-0 victory in the corresponding match during the 2021-22 campaign.
Rayo earned a return to La Liga through the Segunda Division playoffs in 2020-21, and they finished 12th in Spain’s top flight last term, with the club securing back-to-back campaigns at this level of football for the first time since 2016.
Los Franjirrojos have won seven, drawn five and lost six of their 18 league matches this season to collect 26 points, which has left them in ninth position in the table.
Rayo are only two points behind sixth-placed Real Betis, while they have a healthy gap of nine points to the bottom three, and there have been no signs thus far that a relegation battle could be a possibility in the final months of the campaign.
That said, Andoni Iraola’s side have only managed to win one of their last five matches in the league, which was a 1-0 success away to Real Valladolid in the middle of this month.
Last weekend, the capital side suffered a 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad, with Alexander Sorloth and Ander Barrenetxea on the scoresheet for the visitors to Estadio de Vallecas.
Villarreal have a number of injury problems at the moment, with Raul Albiol, Francis Coquelin, Kiko Femenia, Alfonso Pedraza and Giovani Lo Celso again set to miss out here.
As a result, it would not be a surprise to see Setien select the same side that took to the field for the first whistle against Girona last time out.
Jorge Cuenca could continue in the middle of the defence, while it is set to be the same front three, with Samuel Chukwueze joining Gerard Moreno and Yeremy Pino.
As for Rayo, Oscar Valentin remains on the sidelines with a muscular problem, but the visitors are otherwise in strong shape heading into Monday’s contest.
Head coach Iraola is expected to resist the temptation to shuffle his pack from the loss to Real Sociedad, although Santi Comesana could come in for Unai Lopez in the middle of the park.
Radamel Falcao is among the options for change in the final third, but it seems likely that Sergio Camello will again be given the nod through the middle for the capital outfit.
Villarreal possible starting lineup:
Reina; Mandi, Cuenca, Torres, Mojica; Capoue, Parejo, Baena; Chukwueze, G Moreno, Pino
Rayo Vallecano possible starting lineup:
Dimitrievski; Balliu, Lejeune, Catena, F Garcia; Comesana, Ciss; Palazon, Trejo, A Garcia; Camello