Today's version of Villarreal are much changed from last season's Villarreal, especially in attack. The likes of Luciano Vietto, Gerard Moreno, Ikechukwu Uche and Denis Cheryshev have left and been replaced by players like Léo Baptistão, Cédric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado. Both Barça and Villarreal have been hit by a spate of injuries recently and will be missing key players. Despite them having failed to defeat us over the past 14 head-to-head contests, Villarreal have proven to be tough opposition and today should prove no different. They have already recorded wins over Sevilla, Athletic Club and Atlético Madrid.
There will be specific battles on the pitch which will have a significant bearing over today's result.
Munir El Haddadi & Sandro Ramírez
If Lionel Messi does indeed miss the Clásico, a spot in our forward line will be up for grabs. Luis Enrique has been alternating between the duo of Munir and Sandro for that coveted spot alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar. The youngsters have thus far impressed in bits and pieces. Today's game against La Liga's 5th-placed side would be a good acid test for either/both of Munir and Sandro. Villarreal will be without Mateo Musacchio and Eric Bailly. With Neymar and Suárez occupying the thoughts of the opposition, Munir/Sandro should have the space to impress against a makeshift Villarreal defence.
Villarreal's attacking threat
Roberto Soldado and Cédric Bakambu pose different threats individually. Soldado is a proven goalscorer in La Liga with his guile, off-ball movement and finishing ability in the box. He is currently joint-top of La Liga's assists chart. On the counter, the pacey and powerful Bakambu will be a danger. Samu Castillejo, a new signing from Málaga, and Matías Nahuel Leiva have the tenacity, pace and skill to be a threat if they feature.
Thomas Vermaelen has been a welcome addition to our defence this season since returning from the injuries that kept him out for most of the last year. Our defensive form has been improving and Claudio Bravo's safe hands in goal should stand us in good stead for a clean sheet today.
As with every match, today's midfield battle would play a significant role over the outcome. Sergio Busquets, in scintillating form as "the best midfielder in the world" - and he is deserving of that tag - will take up his usual pivote role alongside Sergi Roberto and Andrés Iniesta. Roberto has undoubtedly been one of our best performers so far this season. A good display today will set him up for a starting midfield berth in the Clásico when league play resumes in two weeks, assuming Ivan Rakitić doesn't recover in time. Who would've thought that possible? Iniesta has been slowly brought back into the fold with staggered minutes. Villarreal should prove stern enough opposition for our midfield maestro to get back to match sharpness.
Led by Bruno Soriano, Villarreal have a strong midfield with the likes of Jonathan dos Santos, Denis Suárez and Tomás Pina. dos Santos and Denis Suárez will be chomping at the bit to make an impact at Camp Nou. After all, Suárez is fighting for a potential long-term future at Barça. The Madrigal outfit are well-organised in midfield, with defensive strength as well as the guile and technical ability to supply their forwards. We should have enough quality here to set the stage for our forwards to win us the game.