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A new season begins for FC Barcelona on Sunday at 9.00pm CEST, and here’s the lowdown on Villarreal, the first visitors to Camp Nou in La Liga 2020/21.
Villarreal are the classic example how a team from a small town can mix it with the big boys. The club spent most of its existence in the regional leagues, but made it into the second division in the 1990s and in 1998 won promotion to the top flight for the first time ever.
They weren’t expected to stay long, but two decades later they are still there. In 2008 they finished as high as second, they made it as far as the Champions League semi-finals in 2006, and will now be playing European football for the sixth consecutive season.
Not bad for a city of just 50,000 people!
HEAD TO HEAD
There was a period about a decade ago when Barça developed a nasty habit of slipping up against Villarreal. But the ‘bogey team’ label has been emphatically confined to the past and Barça are on an incredible run of 22 games without defeat to the ‘Yellow Submarine’ in all competitions.
Only counting games at Camp Nou, Barça could make it ten wins in a row this Sunday… Although they have already done that if we also count the Copa del Rey game in 2015!
But that doesn’t mean Villarreal is an easy fixture. Last year’s 4-1 win at the Estadio de la Cerámica (SEE BELOW) was an exception, the games have usually been relatively tight affairs.
Last season, Villarreal hit splendid form after Covid-19 lockdown was lifted and were looking good for a Champions League slot. But three defeats in their last five games meant they eventually had to settle for the Europa League.
Unlike Barça, they have already played two Liga fixtures this season. They were held 1-1 by newly promoted Huesca in their opening match and last week came from behind to beat Eibar 2-1. It means they’re currently third in the table, although with some teams yet to even play, that doesn’t mean too much at this stage.
Santi Cazorla, who had three separate spells at Villarreal, finally left the club at the end of last season, and is now playing under Xavi Hernandez at Al Sadd in Qatar. Club stalwart Bruno Soriano, who has been struggling with a knee injury for the last few seasons, hung up his boots in the summer.
The club’s biggest close season outlay was to bring Frenchman Francis Coquelin from Valencia, while the same club’s captain, Dani Parejo, also joined Villarreal on a free.
The team’s top scorer last season was Gerard Moreno with 18 goals.
The most familiar face in the squad for Barça fans is Paco Alcácer (PICTURED BELOW) who wore blaugrana from 2016 to 2018 and is now back in La Liga after an impressive spell with Borussia Dortmund.
Villarreal's most capped players are Raul Albiol (Spain, 56), Carlos Bacca (Colombia, 52) and Ramiro Funes Mori (Argentina, 26)
Arguably the most important change at Villarreal has been on the bench. Unai Emery has replaced Javier Calleja as head coach, and he’s one of the most experienced en in the business. Winner of three Europa Leagues with Sevilla, and a finalist with Arsenal, and also winner of the French league with Paris St Germain, he has also been in charge of Valencia and Spartak Moscow.
The Camp Nou won’t bring back happy memories for him though. It was as PSG manager that he came here after his side had beaten Barça 4-0 in the 2017 Champions League round of 16. The second leg was presumably a mere formality, but we all know what happened next…
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