Preview: Barça v Villarreal

Preview: Barça v Villarreal

The Camp Nou is the venue for the first fixture of the 2020/21 league season, and Ronald Koeman's first official game in charge

The preseason is over and now it’s time for the real thing! After defeating each of Gimnástic Tarragona, Girona and Elche, things now get truly competitive for Barça in their first game of the Liga season. And it’s a tough start for new manager Ronald Koeman. Villarreal have been one of the strongest teams in La Liga for several years now and are also playing under a new coach: Unai Emery.

As towards the end of last season and all around the planet, Covid-19 is going to have a heavy bearing on La Liga, at least for the foreseeable future. Games continue to be played behind closed doors and the tightest health and safety protocols apply.

Indeed, although La Liga actually began two weeks ago, Barça are among the team that are starting their schedule later due to the previous season overrunning into August.

New faces

The game means potential Barça debuts for Pedri, fresh from Las Palmas, Miralem Pjanić, the experienced Bosnian signed from Juventus and Francisco Trincão, the Portuguese arrival from Braga who looked so impressive in the Gamper.

The club has also welcomed back several players that were out on loan: Jean-Clair Todibo (Schalke 04), Carles Aleñá (Betis), Rafinha (Celta) and Philippe Coutinho, while teenage sensation Ansu Fati is now an official member of the first team too.

Players that have departed include Arthur (Juventus), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Arturo Vidal (Inter), Nelson Semedo (Wolves) and Luis Suárez (Atlético Madrid).

With Ter Stegen out injured for at least another two weeks, it’s Neto who will be starting in goal.

The opposition

Villarreal, playing in the Europa League this season, were one of the teams that started playing a fortnight ago, and that head-start might give them some kind of an advantage. They began with a 1-1 draw against newly promoted Huesca and followed that with a 2-1 defeat of Eibar.

Last five meetings (all La Liga)

5/7/20 Villarreal 1 (Moreno) Barça 4 (OG, Suárez, Griezmann, Ansu Fati)
24/9/19 Barça 2 (Griezmann, Arthur) Villarreal 1 (Cazorla)
2/4/19 Villarreal 4 (Chukweze, Toko-Ekambi, Iborra, Bacca) Barça 4 (Coutinho, Malcom, Messi, Suárez)
2/12/18 Barça 2 (Piqué, Aleñá) Villarreal 0
9/7/18 Barça 5 (Coutinho, Paulinho, Messi, Dembélé 2) Villarreal 1 (Sansone)

Did you know?

Barça have won nine of their last ten opening games of the Liga season. The only defeat was in Bilbao at the start of last season.

Barça have only lost a home fixture on the opening once before, way back in 1939 when they lost to Espanyol at Les Corts.

Barça are unbeaten in 22 league games against Villarreal and have won the last nine played at Camp Nou.

Leo Messi has scored an average of a goal a game in Villarreal’s last eight league visits to Camp Nou.

Unai Emery has managed teams at Camp Nou 12 times in the past and has always lost. That includes being coach of the PSG that unforgettably lose 6-1 in the Champions League of 2017.

Carles Aleñá scored his first ever goal for Barça against Villarreal in 2018, and Ousmane Dembélé scored his first brace for the club in the same year.

Ronald Koeman says

"We have to improve things in defence because the system is different to other years. It’s a radical change and it takes time. Villarreal have strong players up front and we need to get the ball off them quick.”

“We have two weeks to boost the squad, but for now I can only work with the players we have ... Villarreal have already been playing for two weeks, but we’ve been working hard and are looking strong for tomorrow.”

Luis Suárez and I respect each other. Now he has gone to Atlético Madrid I wish him all the luck in the world.”

“Young players need to play, either in the B team or at other teams. But it was Riqui Puig’s decision to stay and he will be in the squad tomorrow.”

The Squad

On Sunday morning, Ronald Koeman announced 23 players for the visit of Villarreal. They are: Piqué, Sergio, Aleñá, Griezmann, Pjanić, Messi, O. Dembélé, Rafinha, Neto, Coutinho, Lenglet, Pedri, Trincão, Jordi Alba, S. Roberto, F. De Jong, Ansu Fati, Junior, Iñaki Peña, Riqui Puig, R. Araujo, Mingo y Arnau Tenas. 

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