Denis Suarez has called on Villarreal to treat Thursday’s Europa league tie with Sparta Prague as though it were a visit of Barcelona.
Europa League semi-finalists in 2011, eliminated by eventual winners Sevilla in last season’s competition and having reached the last eight this term with wins over Napoli and Bayern Leverkusen, Villarreal will enter this tie with plenty of confidence.
Sparta will be no pushovers, however. The Czech side are one of just two clubs to have started the season in the Europa League who remain in the competition unbeaten, along with Liverpool, scoring three goals in each of their last three away games.
An eye-catching 3-0 win at Lazio in the last round helped Sparta become the first Czech side to reach the quarter-finals of European competition in 14 years.
But Villarreal’s last home game saw Barcelona visit El Madrigal, with Marcelino’s side fighting from two goals down to earn a draw against the runaway La Liga leaders – and Suarez believes a repeat performance will be more than enough.
“The Europa League makes us really excited,” he told the club’s official website.
“I already won it last year and we want to win it this year too. We must focus on ourselves.
“We’re the favourites, but Sparta Prague come to us after knocking out Krasnodar and Lazio and so we can’t think it’s won.
“Our season is going excellently. We’re playing really well in the league and in the Europa League we’re in the thick of the knockout Stages, where we must fight to the death.
“Playing at home in the first leg will benefit us. We must play hard to win and keep a clean sheet so we can defend our lead at their ground.
“The excitement and motivation are going to be there because it’s the quarter-finals of a European competition.
“The fans have to fill the stadium like they did against Barcelona. It’s not every season that you play in the quarter-finals of a European competition.
“That’s as good an incentive as any.”
Right-back Antonio Rukavina is suspended for the hosts after he was booked against Leverkusen in the last round, while Daniele Bonera (groin) and Mateo Musacchio (hamstring) also missing from Marcelino’s defence.
Centre-back Mario Holek is Sparta’s only injury absentee, with midfielder Lukas Vacha pushing for a recall after a recent absence.
Key Opta stats:
– This will be the first meeting in Europe between Villarreal and Sparta Prague.
– This is Sparta Prague’s first quarter final appearance in a European competition since 1992-93, when they were knocked out of the Cup Winners’ Cup by Parma.
– Only two of the last 23 European matches (incl. qualifiers) between Spanish and Czech teams have been won by the side from the Czech Republic (eight draws, 13 Spanish wins).
– Sparta Prague have scored in every one of their 14 European matches (incl. qualifiers) in 2015-16.
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