Everything Rangers fans need to know about Europa League opponents Villarreal

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Rangers take on Villarreal in their first Europa League Group G game at El Madrigal on Thursday night. Here’s the lowdown on the Yellow Submarine for Gers fans...

Who’s in charge?

Villarreal fans attend a  European match against Liverpool. Picture: Getty Images

Villarreal fans attend a European match against Liverpool. Picture: Getty Images

Javier Calleja’s senior managerial career is still in its infancy. The 40-year-old ex-Malaga and Osasuna midfielder was boss of Villarreal’s youth teams and the B team before taking over from Fran Escriba just under a year ago.

Calleja played for the side when they reached the semi-final of the Champions League in 2006, owhere they were beaten by Arsenal.

Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga last season behind Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia.

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Head Coach Javier Calleja directs his players during a La Liga match with Girona. Picture: Getty Images

Head Coach Javier Calleja directs his players during a La Liga match with Girona. Picture: Getty Images

How’s their form?

Calleja has been drilling his team in cutting out defensive errors ahead of the visit of Rangers and he has had some

The Yellow Submarine picked up just one point from their opening three La Liga matches which was their worst start for 20 years.

However, a 1-0 win at basement boys Leganes on Sunday with Carlos Bacca scoring the only goal, was a timely boost ahead of Thursday’s clash with the Ibrox men.

Villarreal players celebrate a goal against Real Madrid in May 2018. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Villarreal players celebrate a goal against Real Madrid in May 2018. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Have the two clubs met before?

Yes - the two clubs met in the last 16 of the 2005/06 Champions League.

Villarreal, then managed by current West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini, came out on top on away goals after a 2-2 draw in Glasgow and a 1-1 draw in Spain.

It was the Spanish club’s debut in the competition and they went on to reach the semi-finals. Current manager Calleja was an unused substitute at Ibrox but came off the bench in the return game in El Madrigal.

A general view of the Estadio de La Ceramica, aka El Madrigal. Picture: Getty Images

A general view of the Estadio de La Ceramica, aka El Madrigal. Picture: Getty Images

Who’s the key man?

In Santi Cazorla, Villarreal have a midfielder of proven quality.

The 33-year-old playmaker returned to his first club from Arsenal in the summer after six years with the London club.

Cazorla has 77 caps for Spain and missed out on their 2010 World Cup success through injury.

He came on as a substitute in Spain’s 1-0 European Championship final win over Germany in 2008 and was part of the squad in their 2012 triumph, but had a well-documented struggle with injury during his final years at the Emirates.

Keeping him quiet will be key to any success for Rangers, but Colombian international striker Bacca has netted 18 goals in 44 appearances and will be a potential impact sub.

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Does history suggest Rangers can get a result?

Villarreal are unbeaten in three home games against Scottish opponents, and kept clean sheets in both wins against Celtic.

Rangers have failed to register a single win from 11 visits to Spain to play Spanish clubs (although they did win the 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Moscow Dynamo at the Nou Camp).

The Light Blues’ first game in Europe against Spanish opposition in the 1962/63 season was when they came up against Seville in the Cup Winners Cup. Rangers won 4-0 at Ibrox but lost 2-0 in the away tie.

They drew with Valencia in 1979 and Villarreal in 2006. As well as the nine defeats, the Gers fired blanks in front of goal in - most recently in a 3-0 reversal at Valencia in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

How could Villarreal line up?

Calleja could spring a surprise, given that after three games (two defeats and one draw) using a 4-3-1-2 formation, he shifted his tactics to a 4-4-2 double 6, producing that narrow win over Leganes.

Home form has been an issue for the Yellow Submarine this season, and Calleja will also have to take Rangers’ tactics into consideration.

He could go with: Asenjo; Gaspar (c), Gonzalez, Ruiz, Costa, Trigueros, Cazorla, Iturra, Layun, Toko Ekambi, Moreno. Subs from: Fernandez, Funes Mori, Raba, Fornals, Sansone, Miguelon, Morlanes, Pedraza, Bacca.