Villarreal CF (12th, 3pts) vs FC Barcelona (6th, 4pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Saturday
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 3
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Xavi Hernández, Pedri, Ronald Araujo, Raphinha, Iñigo Martínez, Iñaki Peña, Clément Lenglet (out), Alejandro Balde (doubt)
Villarreal Outs & Doubts: Francis Coquelin, Alberto Moreno, Yeremy Pino (doubt)
Date/Time: Sunday, August 27, 2023, 5.30pm CET (Barcelona), 4.30pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 11.30am ET, 8.30am PT (USA), 9pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadio de la Cerámica, Villarreal, Spain
Referee: Alejandro José Hernández Hernández
VAR: Valentín Pizarro Gómez
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), TSN 3 (Canada), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), M+ LALIGA TV (Spain), others
Following their first victory of the season against Cádiz and a full week of training in beautiful Catalonia, Barcelona return to action for their third La Liga match of the season as they travel east to face Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica, forever El Madrigal in our hearts, on Sunday afternoon.
The Blaugrana had another tough week with plenty of transfer uncertainty and another big injury: Pedri has added to his growing list of muscle injuries with a thigh issue that will keep him out at least six weeks, and the midfielder’s inability to stay healthy in the last 12-18 months has become a serious concern as Barça try to plan for their present and future.
With Ronald Araujo also injured and Raphinha serving the final match of his suspension, Xavi Hernández — who will also not be on the sideline due to his own ban — will be without three starters on Sunday as the Blaugrana’s depth is seriously tested at the very start of the campaign as the coach scrambles to put together a cohesive unit before the start of the Champions League in less than a month.
This hasn’t been a good August for the Catalans but winning is always the best medicine, and winning at El Madrigal is an even bigger confidence boost as the Yellow Submarine always provide a brutal test for whatever team makes a visit to their home stadium.
They use the home crowd’s amazing support to make their opponents uncomfortable for 90 minutes, and with former Barça coach Quique Setien and a talented squad in attacking areas they are capable of hurting teams with good use of the ball too.
Villarreal’s natural style is more dangerous but also more suitable to Barça’s game, so we will likely see a much more open match compared to the Blaugrana’s first two contests against Getafe and Cádiz who wanted none of the ball and all of the violence. Villarreal can threaten more, but will leave more space in behind and the Catalans have more than enough to hurt them even without Pedri.
Ilkay Gündogan and Oriol Romeu have fit in seamlessly in midfield, Frenkie de Jong looks unstoppable and Gavi will benefit from a longer run in the starting lineup in Pedri’s absence. Lamine Yamal is a joy to watch, and there is a strong possibility Robert Lewandowski finally gets off the mark if Villarreal allow more space and the Barça attack provides its top scorer with good enough chances throughout the 90 minutes.
This will be a lot more fun to watch than Barça’s first two games, and I am weirdly optimistic about this one. We are better equipped to deal with Pedri’s absence now that Gündogan is part of the team, and Barça usually play pretty well on the road against sides that try to attack them under Xavi. This should be all kinds of fun.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Kounde, Christensen, Eric, Balde; Gündogan, Romeu, De Jong; Yamal, Lewandowski, Gavi
Villarreal (4-3-3): Jörgensen; Foyth, Gabbia, Cuenca, Pedraza; Terrats, Parejo, Baena; Gerard, Sorloth, Brereton
A more open Villarreal will suit Barça’s game better, and even without Pedri I’m trusting the good guys to play well and get an important win on the road: 3-1 Barça, and Lewandowski finally off the mark.