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FC Barcelona host Villarreal in a Thursday 9.00pm CET kick-off at Spotify Camp Nou. 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.
They got as far as the Champions League semi-finals in 2006, the kind of achievement many assumed would never be repeated, but last season they were in the last four again, eventually going out to Liverpool.
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 was emphatically confined to the past when Barça went on an incredible spree of 27 games without defeat to the ‘Yellow Submarine’ in all competitions.
That run came to an end in May of this year when Villarreal beat the Catalans in the last game of the 2021/22 season.
Last five games (all La Liga)
22/05/22 Barça 0-2 Villarreal
27/11/21 Villarreal 1-3 Barça
25/04/21 Villarreal 1-2 Barça
27/09/20 Barça 4-0 Villarreal
05/07/20 Villarreal 1-4 Barça
One of the goals scored in a 4-1 win for Barça 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 started their season in excellent form, collecting 10 points out of a possible 12 from their first four games without conceding a single goal.
However, their next four games only produced two points. The winless streak was finally broken on Monday night with a 2-0 defeat of Osasuna.
After Barça conceded three times in El Clásico, it is now Villarreal who have the best defensive record in La Liga, with just three goals conceded, although it's only been enough to earn them seventh place in the table.
Villarreal saw off Hajduk Split in a play-off to earn a place in the Conference League. With four wins out of four in a group shared with Lech Poznań, Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Austria Wien, they are already guaranteed top spot with two games to spare.
Most international caps
Aïssa Mandi (Algeria, 78), Raul Albiol (Spain, 58), Giovani Lo Celso (Argentina, 41), Pepe Reina (Spain (36), Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria, 24), Pau Torres (Spain, 21), Johan Mojica (Colombia, 19), Gerard Moreno (Spain, 17), Juan Foyth (Argentina, 15)
Top goalscorers 2022/23 (La Liga)
Álex Baena (3), Arnaut Danjuma (2), Gerard Moreno (2)
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina is best known for his years at Liverpool, but before that he spent seven years at Barça, mainly as a reserve. His most recent club was Lazio before returning to Villarreal, where he already had a three-year spell from 2002–2005.
Right back Kiko Femenía (pictured below) was with Barça B from 2011–2013. After five years at Watford, he joined Villarreal in the summer.
Centre back Jorge Cuenca was also at Barça B, in his case from 2017–2020, before joining Villarreal, although he spent his first two seasons on loan to Almeria and Getafe.
Midfield stalwart Manu Trigueros spent one year playing for the Barça U18 team before leaving for Murcia.
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 Saint Germain, he has also been in charge of Valencia and Spartak Moscow.
Emery has faced Barça 20 times as a manager and has only won twice, first in October 2015 when he was at Sevilla and once as Villarreal boss last season.
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