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La Liga: Villarreal vs FC Barcelona: Team News, Match Preview

A look ahead to the latest "must-win" game for the Blaugrana

Athletic Club v Barcelona - Copa del Rey: Round of 16 First Leg Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

FC Barcelona return to La Liga action tomorrow evening under pressure to pick up a result as they travel to El Madrigal to take on high-flying Villarreal CF. The annual trip down the coast, just past the town of Castellon to the small, often turns out to be one of the toughest fixtures of the season and this year is unlikely to be an exception.

The Yellow Submarine entered this weekend in fourth place, and while Atletico Madrid were able to temporarily knock them out of a UEFA Champions League qualification place with their afternoon win over Eibar, Villarreal seem destined to contest for that spot until the final week of the campaign. In their opening 16 matches, Fran Escriba’s side have lost just three times, including just once at El Madrigal – and to add to the challenge that the Blaugrana will face tomorrow, Villarreal also boast the best defensive record in the division.

Last season, this match went down to the wire. While Luis Enrique’s side were able to burst out of the gate to open up a 2-0 lead in the first half, Villarreal returned from the break a changed side and clawed their way back into proceedings courtesy of a goal from Cedric Bakambu and an own-goal from Jeremy Mathieu. Neither side were able to claim a winner, and on reflection, a draw was a fair result given how evenly-matched the two sides had been on the night.

Depending on who you speak to, some might argue that Barcelona have regressed somewhat since that match. Conversely, very few would argue that Villarreal have not improved since then – which makes this match all the more interesting to discuss.

As the Real Madrid unbeaten streak stretches on, FC Barcelona find themselves in real danger of losing touch in the La Liga title race. A tough fixture such as this of course represents a huge obstacle to overcome, but it also represents an opportunity. This is a chance to atone for previous disappointments; this is a chance to start anew – to inspire hope once again.

La Liga titles are often won and lost at venues such as El Madrigal; so will Barcelona be able to display their championship pedigree and secure a vital three points?



Before we delve into the team news, it is worth noting that amidst all the criticism and negativity, this season’s FC Barcelona is a team that travels well. Already this season, we have witnessed this side dig deep to pick up victories at the Mestalla, San Mames and the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. El Madrigal is another tough venue, but if we can execute our gameplan as we know we can, there is no reason why we cannot add it to the list.

The disappointment of a midweek defeat to Athletic Bilbao could serve as additional motivation; the likes of Luis Suarez and Neymar for example must be eager to demonstrate that they can and will perform better in the rest of 2017, while Gerard Pique and some of the other members of the squad will be fired up to succeed in the face of adversity – namely to stick it to Madrid for a string of perceived refereeing injustices.

I’m not here to promote or disprove the idea of a conspiracy against Barcelona, but there can be benefits to an “us against the world” mentality, just as there can be downsides. While we await a decision on whether Pique could face a suspension for his comments, the focus should be on playing to the best of our abilities to ensure that our results cannot be altered by a couple of missed decisions.

Improved concentration across the backline would certainly help us to achieve that; it’s not to say that the defense played poorly in midweek, but there were a couple of errors that cost us dearly. I would expect a similar backline to start again tomorrow, perhaps with Javier Mascherano rotating in ahead of Samuel Umtiti, and we know that any similar lapses will be punished by the likes of Alexandre Pato, Nicola Sansone and Roberto Soriano.

In midfield, there is talk that Denis Suarez may be handed a later birthday present in the form of a start against his former club, although I suspect that Andre Gomes may remain ahead of him in the pecking order. The Portuguese midfielder started three of the last four La Liga matches and while he hasn’t contributed much in terms of goals and assists, Enrique likes the industry that he brings to the team – and it’s that “steeliness” that could earn him another start tomorrow.

In attack, Arda Turan’s hot run of form doesn’t really seem to matter all too much; Neymar will continue on the left-hand side of attack and Luis Enrique is confident that the goals will come for the Brazilian. Villarreal happen to be his favourite victim; he has eight goals against them including a goal of the year contender from a couple of years back at the Camp Nou. What are the chances he can extend that run tomorrow?


Much like Barcelona, Villarreal enter this match off the back of a Copa del Rey defeat against Basque Country opposition. Fran Escriba’s side were pitted against Real Sociedad and lost 3-1 at the Anoeta on Wednesday, leaving them with a difficult task ahead if they wish to progress into the next round. There is no indication that Escriba will rotate his side to rest any personnel before the second leg, but the tough schedule and the psychological impact of the defeat are factors that Barcelona could try to use in their favour.

In terms of absentees, Bruno Soriano, Roberto Soldado and Denis Cheryshev are all expected to miss out, with the absence of Bruno a potential game-changer for the Blaugrana. Not only is Bruno club captain, but he is the metronome in the middle of the midfield that helps make Villarreal tick.

For more team news, and for more coverage of this match, be sure to check out the coverage from our friends over at Villarreal USA.


Barcelona: DWWWWL

Villarreal: DWWWDL


Villarreal CF 2-2 FC Barcelona – 20th March 2016 – La Liga

Goals from Ivan Rakitic and Neymar appeared to secure a valuable win for the visitors, but Villarreal fought back in the second-half and were able to claim a share of the spoils after Jeremy Mathieu’s own-goal.


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

Villarreal (4-2-2-2): Asenjo; Mario, Ruiz, Musacchio, Costa; Trigueros, dos Santos; Soriano, Samu; Sansone, Pato


Villarreal are good enough to beat us, and certainly good enough to get a draw, but I suspect that one of the front three will decide this in our favour. A hard-fought 2-1 for Barcelona.

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