PREVIEW | Villarreal v FC Barcelona

PREVIEW | Villarreal v FC Barcelona

A Sunday 5.30pm CEST start at the Cerámica, where the Catalans will be looking to earn their first three Liga points on the road

FC Barcelona's season didn't get off to the most ideal of starts when they were held to a 0-0 draw at Getafe, and last week they were in danger of another game ending scoreless before late goals from Pedri and Ferran Torres secured a 2-0 win over Cádiz at the Estadi Olímpic.

Now they face a tricky away trip to the Estadio de la Cerámica, although recent results away to Villarreal do little to reflect what a difficult fixture this is. The Catalans have not lost on any of their last 14 visits to the home of the Yellow Submarine, a run dating all the way back to 2008. Considering that we are talking about one of the strongest teams in Europe in the last two decades, and who made the Champions League semi-finals just two years ago, that is a quite staggering record. 

But now they are going to have to do it all again, and against a side that already had an extraordinary number of former blaugrana players in its ranks, and now has three more after Adrià Altimira, Ilias Akhomach and Denis Suárez (for the second time) all pulled on the yellow jersey this summer. And they are also managed by a familiar face to Barça fans, Quique Setién.

It all promises to be an intriguing tie, with the Barça cause not helped by injuries to two of Xavi's most important players, and another being suspended.

How things stand

Villarreal also slipped up on their opening day with a 2-1 defeat at home to Betis, but like Barça collected their first win last weekend, in their case 1-0 away to Mallorca.

A win would keep Barça two points adrift of the top of the table with seven points. Real Madrid have already secured their third win in as many games after beating Celta 1-0 on Friday, while Valencia and Rayo Vallecano play later and could also potentially end the weekend with their 100 per cent records still intact.  

Team news

There is no doubting the importance of Ronald Araujo in the Barça defence, and also of Pedri in the midfield, and both players are unavailable due to injury. And Xavi also continues without a key component of his frontline, for Raphinha has one more game of his red-card suspension to serve. Not forgetting, of course, that Xavi himself is also suspended and won't be able to take his usual seat on the team bench.

The squad contains a handful of youngsters that are officially part of the reserve squad, including 16-year-old Pau Cubarsí getting his first ever call-up to the senior team.

Other than midfielder Francis Coquelin, who has been out since February, there are no new injury or suspension concerns in a Villarreal side that features new signings Santi Comesaña, Ramón Terrats, Ben Brereton, Alexander Sørloth in addition to the aforesaid former residents of La Masia.

Did you know?

Villarreal away was once a veritable bogey fixture for Barça, with five losses in six games, but since that run they have not lost in any of their last 14 visits, and never since the stadium was renamed in 2017.

Villarreal have scored in their last 19 Liga games, the longest current run for any of the 20 teams in the competition.

Villarreal is Ansu Fati's 'favourite victim'. He has scored four goals against them, more than any other opponent.

Barça are looking to become the first team to score 100 top flight goals against Villarreal. They currently have 98, so would need two more on Sunday to reach the target.

Xavi says

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