PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Villarreal

PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Villarreal

The Estadi Olimpic is the venue on Saturday (6.30pm CET) as the team look to bounce back from Copa del Rey elimination by taking three points off the struggling Yellow Submarine

Following the massive disappointment of crashing out of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Club on Wednesday, it's time for FC Barcelona to pick themselves up and get back to work on one of the two trophies that they still have in their sights this seasons: La Liga.

This Saturday at 6.30pm CET, they are at home to struggling Villarreal, which extraordinarily, after eight games away from home, is the first at the Estadi Olímpic since before Christmas, 38 days ago.

As usual, we have a guide to help you work out what time the game is starting in your part of the world, and which broadcasters might be showing the game live.

Not without hiccups along the way, Barça have won their last three Liga fixtures, at home to Almería and away to Las Palmas and Real Betis. But as long as league leaders Girona and second-placed Real Madrid keep winning as well, then the gap is not going to get any smaller.

How it stands

There are currently eight points separating Barça from Girona, who are at Celta on Sunday at 2pm CET. Real Madrid are one point behind the leaders, and they're away to Las Palmas in the game immediately before Barça v Villarreal.

Due to the Spanish Super Cup, Barça and Real Madrid both have a games in hand on Girona, which they'll both be playing this week.

Team news

Injuries really are not being kind to Barça this season. Gavi, Marcos Alonso, Marc-André ter Stegen, Iñigo Martínez and Raphinha all remain out of action.

And the situations has worsened, especially in defence, now that Alejandro Balde has picked up a muscle problem in Bilbao and Sergi Roberto is also unavailable with an Achilles tendon issue. However, although Andreas Christensen was unable to finish the game at San Mamés, he is able to play.

It means yet another bevvy of youth talent has been drafted in for added support, with Astralaga, Kochen, Cubarsí, Marc Guiu, Hector Fort and Marc Casadó all in the list announced on Saturday.

Villarreal form guide

The side from Castellon are used to battling among the top positions in La Liga, but this season has not been going to plan at all. Now into their fourth coach of the campaign, Marcelino, they have only won five league games in 2023-24 and just one of their last six, and also suffered the misery of going out of the cup to lower league Unionistas Salamanca, the same side that Barça then beat in the following round.

All this is in stark contrast to their fine form in the Europa League, where they topped a group that also included Panathinaikos, Maccabi Haifa and Rennes, and thus get a bye into the last sixteen.

The biggest dangers in the visiting ranks are likely to come from Gonçalo Guedes ability to find space, Norwegian Alexander Sørloth's eye for goal and the strength of their young Danish keeper Filip Jörgensen, whose 85 saves this season are eight more than any other keeper in the league.

Head to head

Last five meetings (all La Liga)
27/08/23 Villarreal 3-4 Barça
12/02/23 Villarreal 0-1 Barça
20/10/22 Barça 3-0 Villarreal
22/05/22 Barça 0-2 Villarreal
27/11/21 Villarreal 1-3 Barça

Considering that Villarreal have been one the strongest teams in Spain in recent years, Barça's recent record against them in simply extraordinary. The Catalans have only lost one of their last 29 league matches against them, and not much should be read into the sole defeat, a 2-0 loss on the final day of the 2021-22 season when Villarreal were still chasing a European place and Barça had nothing to play for.

Other than that, Barça have won all 11 of their last 12 home fixtures with Villarreal, scoring an average of three goals in the process. At least on paper, these are three points that are very much there for the taking.

But football is played on grass, not paper, and if the game earlier this season at the Estadio de la Cerámica is anything to go by, this one is going to be a cracker.

Gavi and Frenkie de Jong put Barça into a 2-0 lead very early on, but the 'Yellow Submarine' bounced back, and by the 50th minute they were leading 3-2. There was a further twist to come, with Ferran Torres equalising and Robert Lewandowski claiming the winner as it ended 4-3. That thriller will be best remembered for the emergence of a teenage sensation, Lamine Yamal, in a fabulous performance that included his first ever assist in the blaugrana jersey.


Did you know?

There are familiar faces aplenty in the Villarreal squad. All of Pepe Reina, Jorge Cuenca, Manu Trigueros, Ilias Akhomach, Denis Suárez and Kiko Femenía either played for Barça or spent time in the club's academy.

Robert Lewandowski has scored three times already against Villarreal, and the only club that has been on the receiving end of more of his goals is Elche (4).

Xavi says

"Villarreal are going through a bad patch" he said. "But Marcelino's teams are always very aggressive and well-organised, and work hard on defence. They still have a lot of standout players who can make all the difference."

"We still have every chance of catching up in the league and these next two games at home are a key part of that. And the team is very united, we have a very strong-minded squad. I have never seen a squad with so much human quality in my whole career."


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