Villarreal and Panathinaikos are keen to maintain their status as underdogs ahead of tonight’s last 16 encounter in Spain.
Manuel Pellegrini, who guided Villarreal to the semi-finals in 2005-06, was content to play down the suggestion that his side were favourites for tonight’s tie.
“I don’t think we are favourites for this tie and I just don’t see how anyone can think we are,” he suggesetd. “Panathinaikos are one of Greece’s top sides, something of a European legend. It’s a tough task for us and every last second of the 180 minutes will be vital in terms of form, fitness and concentration.”
Villarreal will be without two valuable stalwarts, Joan Capdevila and Guille Franco, through suspension, while centre-back Gonzalo Rodríguez is sidelined with a torn thigh muscle.
“It’s up to us to cope with that and show that we’ve started to hit good form recently,” insisted Pellegrini. “From what I’ve learned about Henk ten Cate’s team, they are powerful, quick on the counterattack and their results in the group stage speak for themselves. But I’ll ask my side to play with intensity from the off. I don’t expect us to be able to establish a big lead but I do demand a home win.”
History suggests Pellegrini’s hopes are not misplaced as Panathinaikos have lost nine competition matches in Spain over the last decade.
“Thanks for reminding me and my team about that, but records are there to be broken,” said visiting coach Ten Cate, who as assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona between 2003 and 2006, won the last time he visited Villarreal.
“I’ve got a very, very good memory of my last match here. Frank had flu so I took charge and we won 2-0,” he said. “This is a totally different experience, though. Villarreal are the bigger club this time – they are the favourites and we the underdogs. They have more quality than us, but we’ll see. Perhaps there’s another surprise in store.”
Panathinaikos are without Loukas Vintra and Marcelo Mattos for tonight’s encounter, but otherwise, ten Cate has a full squad to choose from.