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La Liga: Villarreal CF vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

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A preview of the La Liga clash between Villarreal and Barcelona.

David Ramos

Football is often thought as the be-all and end-all. If a big game is at the weekend, you will spend all week worrying about the fixture. A 1-0 defeat in one match can lead to one week of tears. El Clásico's divides friends and families as they effectively form armies wearing the colours of their team only to regroup after the 90 minutes are over.

That was put all into perspective on Friday. When the beloved Tito Vilanova, a man who played for and managed Barcelona, passed away after a long battle with cancer. Madrid players, the Madrid president, Roma FC, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and their players, Chelsea along with the whole football world came together to recognise the passing of a truly football man.

But, as it always does, the world and football goes on. Villarreal and the league offered Barcelona the opportunity to postpone the game, but as of now, the club have taken the opportunity to play for Tito and have elected to go ahead with the game.

Perhaps the most befitting tribute to the man who guided Barça to the league last year, would be to make a triumphant comeback in the title race. You'd expect Real Madrid to beat Osasuna on Saturday, but you do wonder if their obsession with La Decima could be their downfall in the league. Meanwhile if Atlético drop points at wildcards Valencia, the last game at the Camp Nou could be a title decider.

Nevertheless Barcelona have to win this game if they want to stand a chance but Villarreal are no easy opponents, especially at El Madrigal.

TEAM NEWS

BARCELONA

Eighteen men have been called up for the trip to the east of Spain and Sergio Busquets has returned to the squad having missed the Bilbao game because of suspension. There had been rumours that Gerard Piqué was returning to fitness and could be available for this game, but those was reports were a little premature and he misses out. Piqué's defensive teammates Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol and Jordi Alba also miss out as does Neymar and Jonathan Dos Santos. Isaac Cuenca doesn't make the squad.

With a number of injuries to the defence, predicting the back four is relatively simple. Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal, hoping to finish what could be his penultimate last away game for Barcelona with a clean sheet. Martín Montoya could've maybe started had Barça not needed a win so badly so expect Tata Martino to play it safe and go with the experienced Dani Alves.

Barcelona are widely expected to purchase a new centre-back in the summer so Marc Bartra will want to use these last games to prove that he is worth of a starting spot, regardless of who makes the switch to Catalunya in the summer. Javier Mascherano will partner Bartra and if Barça do sign a new central defender, you'd expect the Argentine to lose his place in the starting XI. The master of mixing golazos with injuries, Adriano, will start on the left in the place of Jordi Alba.

In the midfield, Busquets will come in to replace Alex Song at pivote. The Spaniard did have a potential injury problem midweek and was training alone on Wednesday but he has overcome this. The man who faced some harsh whistling from the Camp Nou fans, Cesc Fàbregas, will likely start from the bench as Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández are in line for a starting spot. Sergi Roberto has also seen his minutes dropped having started the season making regular substitute appearances.

Martino has a choice of five players for the three available spots at the top. Lionel Messi will start in the centre and Pedro and Alexis Sánchez are predicted to accompany him. Ibrahim Afellay and Cristian Tello make the squad but have yet to reach the level to be deemed a starter for Barcelona. Martino could of course throw a spanner in the works and elect to field either of Iniesta and Fàbregas in one of the forwards positions.

VILLARREAL

Chechu Dorado is ruled out with a metatarsal injury and Pablo Íñiguez misses out too with a groin injury. Ikechukwu Uche has overcome an injury and makes the squad. Giovanni Dos Santos will also be looking to impress his old club.

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona: DWLLLW

Villarreal: LWDLWL

LAST MEETING

FC Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal CF - 14th Decemeber 2013 - La Liga

A goal in each half from Neymar earned Barcelona the victory at the Camp Nou. Musacchio had equalised in the 46th minute but the Brazilian scored the winner in the 66th minute. Real Madrid dropped points earlier so Barcelona's lead at the top of the table extended to five points.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis

Villarreal (4-4-2): Asenjo, Costa, Iñíguez, Musacchio, Mario, Cani, Bruno, Pina, Óliver, Perbet, Dos Santos

MATCH PREDICTION

Winning at Villarreal isn't an easy job but I think the players will feed off the emotion of the situation and earn a 3-1 win.