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Copa del Rey: Villarreal CF vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

A preview of Barcelona's semi-final second-leg clash with Villarreal at El Madrigal, as each side looks to book their place in the 2015 Copa del Rey final

David Ramos/Getty Images

One last hurdle; 90 minutes at El Madrigal are all that separate FC Barcelona from their first final of the Luis Enrique era and a chance to regain the Copa del Rey trophy. After falling at the final obstacle last season courtesy of Gareth Bale’s late winner, the Blaugrana are anxious to regain one of their favourite trophies – a title that they won on no fewer than 26 occasions. Indeed, given their relatively comfortable 3-1 aggregate lead after the first-leg at the Camp Nou, Barça will be confident of getting the job done and securing their progression.

However, Villarreal cannot and should not be counted out of this tie. Their solitary away goal might not seem like much, but could yet prove critical. Building on the foundations of what is one of the best backlines in La Liga, Villarreal would progress with a hypothetical 2-0 victory. Sure, few would suggest that’s one of the most likely scorelines for tomorrow’s match but it is plausible. An early goal in front of a vocal home crowd…well, stranger things have happened in football.

Who would have thought for instance that Villarreal head coach, Marcelino could rotate out eight of his 11 first-team regulars for a trip to the league leaders at the Santiago Bernabeu and come away with a point? With this side, anything is possible. Think Atletico Madrid from 2013/14, albeit on a slightly smaller scale and playing a more attractive brand of football.

Perhaps that is the best compliment we could pay this Villarreal outfit: in the form they are in at present, they remind us of the current UEFA Champions League runners-up and reigning La Liga champions. That’s just how seriously the majority of Culés are taking this game.

Heck, need another example? Undoubtedly a straw poll of the average FC Barcelona fan would reveal that we are more worried about progression in the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 aggregate lead than we are about progression in the UEFA Champions League against English Premier League champions, Manchester City. Did I mention that we only have a 2-1 aggregate lead in that one?

In short, we’re not taking this one lightly and judging from their pre-match press conferences; neither is Luis Enrique or key midfield lynchpin, Sergio Busquets.

A comparison of the line-up from tomorrow and next weekend against Rayo Vallecano will likely tell the same story: this is the most important match we are playing this week and maybe in our season to date.



Squad news will become available early tomorrow morning, as per usual, so up until then, there’s going to be some element of guesswork involved. Equally, for such a big match it’s actually been quite easy to predict Luis Enrique as of late and chances are, our line-up will be spot on from the goalkeeper right through to the attack.

The good news is that Barça don’t have any suspensions to contend with after the first-leg, nor do they have any injuries to worry them either. Long-term absentee Thomas Vermaelen will miss out, but there’s absolutely no change compared to last weekend against Granada, or even from the first-leg three weeks ago.

And there’s no reason not to anticipate a similar selection from Luis Enrique to that first-leg. While we had our troubles over the course of the 90 minutes, we definitely created more for Villarreal and even with our lead, we should be looking to build upon our lead to at least grab an away goal and secure this tie.

Equally, it’s no good grabbing that away goal if we leave ourselves too susceptible at the other end. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal with the explicit aim of ensuring that does not happen – and to his credit, while he hasn’t kept many clean sheet as of late, the German shot-stopper has been in fine form. He was commanding against Manchester City, making a number of good saves to keep the Premier League champions at bay, and a similar performance would not go amiss tomorrow evening.

That being said, ter Stegen will need a lot of help from his defense if he is to succeed and keep the likes of Luciano Vietto and Gerard Moreno off the scoresheet. Dani Alves will likely retain his place at right-back in the face of yet more criticism from Culés about his recent form although in all honesty, we haven’t seen enough of or from Martin Montoya to suggest that he would definitively be a better option. Then again, it might worry the Blaugrana to know that Alves is currently considered the "safe option"…

I suppose we have to have a weakness somewhere and there is no doubt that "centre-half" is not that position any longer. Nor would I argue that it ever was in terms of personnel; our problems at the back always stemmed from wider problems with the system (i.e. a lack of pressing) and yes, a lack of form for some key players. Not that we’ve addressed the former and have Gerard Pique in the form of his career, the problems have subsided.

The return of Pique from suspension will only serve to shore things up at the back further, while I’d be equally comfortable with either Javier Mascherano or Marc Bartra partnering the elegant Catalan in the heart of that defense. Maybe on reflection, Mascherano might be the best choice given his mobility up against the likes of Vietto, Gio and Moreno, but Bartra isn’t a bad option either. However, there can be no doubts that Jordi Alba represents our best option at left-back, so expect to see our marauding little left-back stationed out on the flank tomorrow.

After a well-deserved rest at the weekend, Sergio Busquets should return at pivote and Luis Enrique will be hoping to see a similar performance to the one we were treated to in the first-half last Tuesday at the Etihad. On that night, Busquets was at his mesmeric best, toying with the City midfield to establish Barcelona’s midfield dominance – the core from which our impressive victory was built upon. There were a few hiccups in the second-half, but in general, a repeat should leave us one significant step closer to victory at El Madrigal.

In midfield, it’s going to be tough to see Ivan Rakitic being displaced after two virtuoso displays against Manchester City and Granada, but here I am, implying that the Croatian midfielder might be dropped to the bench tomorrow. Don’t shoot the messenger though – it’s just that Rafinha Alcantara has started all three previous matches with Villarreal this season and well, Andres Iniesta is vice-captain and has rarely been left on the bench for more than one game at a time this season.

So, at least in that sense we will have capable options off the bench, both to change the dynamic of the fixture and to improve upon or refresh our current style as play draws on in this tough atmosphere.

The frontline of course selects itself, and after predicting that Neymar might be rested at the weekend, I think I’ve learned my lesson and will keep schtum about the whole idea. Let’s face it; even if he might not be at his best there is little incentive for Lucho to drop Neymar tomorrow knowing that he will sit out the weekend’s clash with Rayo Vallecano. An extended break of a fortnight without football might do him well, but it’s just not going to happen.

And really, can we complain? Neymar might just score tomorrow and his sheer presence on the pitch cannot be ignored, leaving more space and freedom for Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to thrive. Speaking of whom…Suarez is on fire at the moment. Three goals in his last two matches – that’s more like the Suarez we were expecting after his transfer was announced. So, yes, while Neymar’s goals have dried up in recent matches, we haven’t seen a downturn simply because Suarez is stepping forward and producing instead.

Oh, and there’s that Lionel Messi fellow. Apparently he’s playing well too, so there’s that.


While Barcelona managed to escape the first-leg unscathed in terms of injuries, Villarreal were not so lucky, losing instrumental midfielder Bruno Soriano to a broken leg. Ante Rukavina is also out of tomorrow's match with a slight groin injury. There is good news however; expensive new defensive signing Eric Bailly looked good against Real Madrid and all over the field, Villarreal have options at their disposal. Expect to see the star names like Vietto, Giovani and Denis Cheryshev, but don't be surprised to see a couple of changes from that first-leg either.


Barcelona: WWWLWW

Villarreal: LLWWWD


FC Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal CF – 11th February 2015 – Copa del Rey

Manu Trigueros’ goal shortly after the half-time interval threatened to throw a spanner into the works for the Blaugrana, but goals from Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique ensured that Barça would take an aggregate lead to El Madrigal, even after Messi’s opener was cancelled out.


Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rafinha, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Villarreal (4-2-2-2): Asenjo; Mario, Ruiz, Musacchio, Costa; Pina, Trigueros; Cheryshev, Giovani; Vietto, Moreno


This is going to be a tough one, and with the luxury of an aggregate lead, we can afford a draw on the night – but I still fancy us to continue our recent run of good form and squeak out a narrow win. 2-1 Barça on the night; 5-3 on aggregate.

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