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It’s time for the first road trip of the Xavi Hernandez era, as Barça head down the Mediterranean coast to Villarreal for a Saturday 9.00pm CET kick-off. Let’s take a closer look at the opposition.
Villarreal are the classic example of 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, making it as far as the Champions League semi-finals in 2006, and this year are in the group stage for the fourth time.
Not bad for a city of just 50,000 people!
Opened way back in 1923, El Madrigal was re-named El Estadio de la Cerámica in 2017 in honour of the local industry. A lot of rebuilding work has gone on since the club has been playing in the top flight, although the 24,890 capacity still makes it one of the smaller venues in La Liga.
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 27 games without defeat to the ‘Yellow Submarine’ in all competitions.
Fourteen of those games have been played in Villarreal:
2021 Villarreal 1-2 Barça (Liga)
2020 Villarreal 1-4 Barça (Liga)
2019 Villarreal 4-4 Barça (Liga)
2017 Villarreal 0-2 Barça (Liga)
2017 Villarreal 1-1 Barça (Liga)
2016 Villarreal 2-2 Barça (Liga)
2015 Villarreal 1-3 Barça (Copa del Rey)
2014 Villarreal 0-1 Barça (Liga)
2014 Villarreal 2-3 Barça (Liga)
2012 Villarreal 0-0 Barça (Liga)
2011 Villarreal 0-1 Barça (Liga)
2010 Villarreal 1-4 Barça (Liga)
2008 Villarreal 1-2 Barça (Liga)
2008 Villarreal 0-0 Barça (Copa del Rey)
Last season, Barça won this fixture 2-1, with both goals scored by Antoine Griezmann.
One of the goals scored in the 4-1 win in 2010 was scored by none other than Xavi Hernández (who also gave an assist in the same game). It’s a goal worth enjoying again because it was one of the finest that Xavi ever scored!
Villarreal were unbeaten in their first seven games this season, but five of those were draws … and they’ve lost three and won just one of their last six games. All in all, this season is not going as well as others in recent years, and the team are down in ninth place, four points behind FC Barcelona.
All the same, Villarreal have been exceptional in defence, ranking fourth for fewest goals conceded and third for clean sheets. It’s not easy to create chances against this side, who also rank fourth for shots against, just 39.
Playing in the Champions League as well has somewhat stretched their resources. Victory over Manchester United midweek would have qualified them for the second stage, but they lost 2-0 at home, meaning they now have to go to Atalanta on the final day. It’s a head-to-head for qualification, but Villarreal have the advantage that a draw would be enough to finish above the Italians.
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.
Serge Aurier (Ivoary Coast, 72), Aïssa Mandi (Algeria, 66), Raul Albiol (Spain, 58), Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria, 19), Pervis Estupiñán (Ecuador, 19), Paco Alcácer (Spain, 19), Gerard Moreno (Spain, 17), Juan Foyth (Argentina, 13), Pau Torres (Spain, 16), Boulaye Dia (Senegal, 9), Étienne Capoue (France, 7), Arnaut Danjuma (Holland, 5), Dani Parejo (Spain, 4), Alberto Moreno (Spain, 4), Mario Gaspar (Spain, 3), Gerónimo Rulli (Argentina, 2), Yeremi Pino (Spain, 2), Sergio Asenjo (Spain, 1)
Top goalscorers 2021/22 (La Liga)
Arnaut Danjuma (5), Manu Trigueros (3), Alberto Moreno (2)
Curiously, both team’s top goalscorers on Saturday are Dutchmen (Barça’s top marksman is Memphis Depay of course, with 7). Arnaut Danjuma is in fine form after arriving from Bournemouth in the summer, and also leads the team for shots (14) and dribble attempts (33). A man to look out for.
Unai Emery replaced Javier Calleja as head coach in the summer of 2020, 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.
Emery has faced Barça 19 times as a manager and has only won once, his poorest record against any team that he has faced five times or more. His only victory was 2-1 in October 2015 when he was at Sevilla.
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