Match Preview: FC Barcelona v Villarreal

Leo Messi in this season's first game against Villarreal. / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Barça are back at Camp Nou on Sunday to go for their fourth straight league win while Villarreal are seeking their third in a row

Something’s gotta give for a pair of red hot league rivals set to square off at Camp Nou on Sunday at 9.00pm (CET) as FC Barcelona are back at home to host Villarreal, with both teams looking to extend their winning streaks.

Team news

Barça spent Saturday morning at the Ciutat Esportiva working on their final preparations for Villarreal. Head coach Luis Enrique will announce the squad list on Sunday morning.

The team’s first session to get ready for Villarreal was on Friday, as they were rewarded with a day off on Thursday following Wednesday night’s physical 3–2 victory over Atlético de Madrid in the Spanish Cup quarter-finals.

The day after Barça knocked Atlético out of the tournament, Villarreal won their own quarter-final tie by eliminating Getafe, thus setting up a Cup semi-final, to be played in February and March, between Sunday’s Liga opponents.

Coaches’ viewpoint

Luis Enrique deserves a lot of credit for the way his team have played over the last few weeks. But despite a string of impressive results that have the squad’s confidence level at its high-water mark so far this season, the Barça skipper is not taking anything for granted. “If we don’t press them, we’ll be in trouble,” he warned.

At Saturday’s press conference Luis Enrique acknowledged that Villarreal represent an enormous challenge as one of the few teams Barça will face all year that eschew a purely defensive approach. “They won’t just come to defend, they attack really well too,” he said.

Meanwhile, Villarreal coach Marcelino has repeatedly implied that his team are living a dream. Enjoying unprecedented success this season — Villarreal have never hoisted a major trophy — they have sailed into uncharted territory.

Form guide

Barça are looking to get their fourth win in a row in La Liga. Ever since they opened 2015 by falling at Anoeta back on 4 January, the culers have been unstoppable. In their last seven games overall, they have beaten both Elche and defending Liga champs Atlético three times each — once in the league and twice in the Cup — while also besting Deportivo along the way. The blaugranes currently sit in second place in the league table, four points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid, who beat Real Sociedad on Saturday and also have a game in hand.

Villarreal may just be the hottest team on the planet right now. They are unbeaten in their last 18 games overall — including 10 straight in the league — with their last defeat in any competition coming in a 3–1 home loss to Valencia in La Liga way back on November 2. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that they have only lost once on the road this season, the fewest in the league. They also haven’t given up a goal in their last 376 minutes played. Villarreal are currently sixth in the table and could move into fourth place with a win over Barça and some help from Valencia and Sevilla.

Ones to watch

While FC Barcelona’s offensive trident is always quick to grab the headlines, this week the culer defence will be thrust into the spotlight as Villarreal are expected to be reluctant to sit back in their own end. Although we won’t know who Luis Enrique will task with holding down the fort until around an hour before kick-off, Barça’s defensive front is certain to be a major factor in front of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Both Dani Alves and Gerard Piqué are one yellow away from being sanctioned.

Whoever does start for Barça on the back line will have to keep a close eye on Villarreal striker Luciano Vietto, who leads the team with nine goals. Another player sure to garner attention will be Jonathon dos Santos, who spent 12 years climbing up the ladder at La Masia, eventually debuting with the first team in the 2012/13 season. And he won’t be the only Dos Santos. Jonathon’s older brother and fellow Mexican national team member Giovani, who also played for Barça until 2008, will likely see some action.

History

FC Barcelona have been the victors in Villarreal’s last three visits to Camp Nou, outscoring them by a count of 10–2…There have only been two hat-tricks in the history of this rivalry, with Patrick Kluivert doing it for Barça back in 2001 and Diego Forlán getting Villarreal’s in 2005…Ten current Barça players — Adriano, Piqué, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Alves, Pedro Rodríguez, Leo Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Neymar and Sandro Ramírez — have scored at least one career goal against Villarreal. Among them, only Adriano (Sevilla), Piqué (Zaragoza) and Rakitic (Sevilla) scored while playing for other teams…Only two current Villarreal players — Musacchio and Trigueros — have previously scored a goal against Barça.

Luis Enrique has two wins and a draw in three career games coached against Villarreal, while Marcelino has never beaten Barça as a coach, only managing two draws and seven losses in nine career games.

Coverage

The game is being shown live in Catalonia on Canal+ 1 / HD / 30, and Canal+ Yomvi. Coverage in the United States will be on SiriusXM FC, beIN SPORTS CONNECT, beIN Sports en Español, and beIN Sports USA; in the UK it will be on Sky Go, Sky Sports 5/HD, and Sky Go Extra.

No matter where you are in the world, we have you covered. And remember, you can also listen to live play-by-play in English on Radio Barça. The radio link will appear on www.fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.

FC Barcelona v Villarreal, a numbers game

Luis Enrique and Marcelino García speak before their first meeting this season. / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Villarreal come back to Camp Nou with an 18-game unbeaten streak, but they haven’t won in Barcelona since 9 March 2008

Barça face Villarreal on Sunday at 9.00pm (CET) at Camp Nou. Let’s take a look at the matchup, by the numbers:

Barça haven’t lost to Villarreal at Camp Nou since 9 March 2008,when they fell 2–1 in Ronaldinho‘s last game in Barcelona. Since then, in the last ten league games with Villarreal, Barça have seven wins and three draws.


In the last 10 league games between Barça and Villarreal have seen a total of 35 goals, an average of 3.5 goals per game.


Both games last season between FC Barcelona and Villarreal in the league ended in victory for the culers. The match at Camp Nou ended 2-1 with two goals from Neymar, and the game at the Madrigal ended 3-2 thanks to a goal from Messi on 82 minutes, completing a comeback win and allowing Barça to keep fighting for the league title.


Villarreal arrive at Camp Nou in the midst of an 18-game unbeaten streak — 13 wins and 5 draws. They haven’t lost away from home in the league since 26 October against Sevilla (2-1).


Barça host Villarreal after seven consecutive victories against Atlético, Elche and Deportivo in the league, two second-round Cup matches against Elche and two quarter-final Cup matches against Atlético. In the seven wins, Barça have scored 26 goals for an average of 3.7 per game.


Barça are the second highest scoring team in the league with 54 goals. Messi is the team’s top scorer with 21 goals followed by Neymar‘s 14.


• Villarreal is tied with Real Madrid for the second fewest goals allowed in La Liga, with 17. Barça are first, having only given up nine goals.


The Dos Santos brothers return to Camp Nou as Villarreal players. Jonathan will be back for the first time after 12 years with Barça, having been part of the first team from 2009 to 2014. His brother, Giovani, also a product of La Masia, was on the first team in the 2007/08 season.


Luciano Vietto is the Villarreal‘s top scorer with nine of the team‘s 33 goals.


• Villarreal goalkeeper Asenjo leads the team with 1,800 minutes played, followed by Bruno (1,659) and Mario (1,520). Meanwhile, Barça are led by Bravo (1,800), Messi (1,755) and Busquets (1,506).


• Villarreal added two reinforcements in the winter transfer period: Joel Campbell, who came on loan from Arsenal and could debut this Sunday against Barça and Eric Bailly, from Espanyol, who is currently playing in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Luis Enrique vows to break Villarreal run

Luis Enrique spoke to the press on Saturday morning / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Whilst praising Villarreal coach Marcelino’s team, Luis Enrique insisted his side were out to break the visitors’ good run of results on Sunday evening

Luis Enrique’s Barça may be hitting top form right now, but the boss is well aware that Sunday’s visitors to the Camp Nou, Villarreal, are enjoying a great run themselves. Unbeaten in their last 18 games, Villarreal will be a tough test, though in his Saturday morning press conference, Luis Enrique insisted: “we’ll be looking to beat them and put an end to their run, but they are a tough opponent because of their footballing philosophy. They won’t just come to defend, they attack really well too”.

Luis Enrique recalled the difficulties his team had to come away with the three points from El Madrigal when the two met earlier this season and only late goal from Sandro finally gave them the win: “if we don’t press them, we’ll be in trouble. We had plenty of chances in the first game this season, but it was a hard job to beat them”.

After a hectic January, the players will have six days after the game against Villarreal before they play again and Luis Enrique explained: “this will be really useful to work on things we haven’t been able to deal with over the last few weeks. We are used to playing three games a week though and we manage the squad and the different options the players give us accordingly”.[[CITA_1]]

Echoing team captain Xavi’s sentiments on Friday, Luis Enrique also defended Neymar and the rest of the players following the game against Atlético Madrid midweek: “all the players behaved perfectly. Neymar is playing his best football at the Club since he arrived. He’s with the right team to become an epoch making figure”. Declining to compare Neymar and Messi, the boss insisted: “Messi has set the bar so high with all that he has done, all that he is still doing and all that he will continue to do”.

Neymar is with the right team to become an epoch making figure

Villarreal's excellent form away from home

Messi in action earlier in the season at El Mardrigal. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Sunday’s visitors are one of the best sides in the league away from home having lost just once this season away from El Madrigal

Three straight wins

Despite Villarreal’s excellent results this season  Barça have a good recent record against the Yellow Submarine at Camp Nou. The blaugranes have not lost in the fixture since the season 2007/08 and have won the last three league meetings between the sides at home.

Villarreal visit Camp Nou this Sunday with some impressive numbers coming into such a big game. The blaugranes’ rivals have had an excellent first half to the league campaign and have only lost once away from home so far this season. That defeat came at the start of November against Sevilla at the Sánchez Pizjuán when two late goals gave the home side a come from behind 2-1 victory.

Since that moment the team affectionately known as the Yellow Submarine due to their home kit are unbeaten away from their stadium of El Madrigal and in total they have won four times and drawn five on the road as well as the defeat against Unai Emery’s men. Marcelino García Toral’s team have claimed victory as such tough away grounds as the Vicente Calderón where they beat Atlético by one goal to nil.

Second best defensive record away

One of the keys to Villarreal’s form away from home has been their defensive performances. In ten matches on the road they have conceded just eight goals and they have kept a clean sheet on no less than four occasions. That strength means they have the second best defensive record away from home in the league, behind the blaugranes, who have just conceded five times on their travels.

Furthermore, Villarreal are unbeaten in all competitions in their last 18 matches. Their last defeat came in the Europa League when they lost 3-2 away against FC Zurich in the fourth game of the competition’s group stage.

Since that day they have recorded 13 wins and five draws, allowing them to rise to sixth place in the league, move into the last 32 in Europe and reach the semi-finals of the Europa League where they will face Barça. Sunday’s clash with the blaugranes comes at a perfect time for both sides with FC Barcelona also currently in excellent form. The confrontation at Camp Nou on Sunday is not one to be missed.

Neymar's two goals against Villarreal

Neymar celebrates scoring against Villarreal last season / PHOTO: FCB-Archive
With both goals in a 2-1 win, the Brazilian helped FC Barcelona to victory last season on the Yellow Submarine’s last visit in the league to Camp Nou

Recent matches have served to show that Neymar is in great form ahead of the visit of Villarreal to Camp Nou in the league this Sunday in a game that kicks off at 9.00pm (CET). The Brazilian star now has 21 goals in all competitions this season and has scored four goals in his last two matches (against Elche and Atlético Madrid). He will be keen to that total against the weekend’s visitors.

The Barça number 11 is no stranger to scoring against the team nicknamed the Yellow Submarine. He found the net last season on Villarreal’s last visit to Camp Nou in the league. With Leo Messi out though injury, the Brazilian stepped up to the plate to score twice to help Barça claim all three points against an always difficult opponent.

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