After the controversial Clasico that had everything except proper refereeing, Barcelona face Villarreal in a fixture that could see Ernesto Valverde shuffling his squad, giving fringe players a chance to make an impact. The reason for the shuffle? Pretty obvious. The previous match saw the Blaugrana players doing double the work as Sergi Roberto was given his marching orders, so they could need a day off owing to fatigue. Ousmane Dembele could return and Thomas Vermaelen should come in for the injured Samuel Umtiti.
Villarreal are in good form, being unbeaten in four matches, their latest victim was Valencia in a tough 1-0 win. A sixth-place finish will guarantee them Europa League football and Javier Calleja and his men will do anything for it.
Barcelona are expected to start with a 4-4-2 again with a view to continuing the unbeaten streak and possibly becoming invincibles this time around. There is a chance that Paulinho will start the game given his previous match exploits and Andres Iniesta will be benched as Coutinho and Dembele man the midfield flanks.
Calleja has maintained a consistent starting 11 and he will likely play the same squad this time around. The team likes to absorb defensive pressure and this is shown by the number of aerial duels per game, which stands at a staggering 31 compared to Barcelona’s lowly 18.
They are currently the team with the most number of clearances per game (in the league) too, with around 26 registered so far. They also stand second in the league in terms of most fouls committed per game, with a stat of around 16.
This highlights Villarreal’s tremendous desire to do anything to dispossess the opponent even if it means going into the referee’s notebook, with around three yellow cards collected per game (a tad less than Getafe with around 3.4 per game).
It’s no secret that the Yellow Submarine are a counter attacking team and an attacking force to reckon with. It’s also no surprise that they are the league’s top team when it comes to scoring from counter attacks, with six goals. Former Milan player Carlos Bacca has been great, netting goals for the team whenever needed. With consistently good performances, midfielder Rodri has been outstanding and it’s no surprise that many clubs have been following him. Former Arsenal target Pablo Fornals ranks third in the 2017-18 La Liga assist list, with nine to his name, although he is expected to miss the next match.
Decoding the game:
- Villarreal are very much a team that give away fouls in critical areas. That paves the way for Messi to go for goal from free-kicks.
- They have conceded a lot from set pieces this season (12) which underlines their defensive uncertainty near the penalty area. A player like Paulinho, who is a great header of the ball can take advantage of this. Not forgetting Pique and Vermaelen who can also benefit from attacking set pieces.
- Antonio Rukovina is suspended for the game so the right flank could become vulnerable and Barcelona would greatly benefit from this by letting Dembele start. The youngster has amazing tricks up his sleeve and can cause problems.
- As they are a counter-attacking team they will test Barcelona’s defensive solidarity at all times. Full-backs will have a tremendous role this time around and they should make defensive runs at all times. A pressing type of play may do wonders too.
- Rodri has been at the center of their game with a passing accuracy of over 89%. Marking him out of the game will ensure Villarreal don’t pose a threat while keeping the ball.
- Due to their strength in aerial duels, Barcelona should make more use of short passes to exploit the spaces provided.
Barcelona have defeated Villarreal in their last seven home games in a row in all competitions and have scored at least three goals in the majority of those seven games.
A pretty solid fixture with both sides having motives to win. An unbeaten season versus a European spot; this match can be the great decider.