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Barça have the advantage in their Champions League last 16 tie against Manchester City following their 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium. Their 3-1 away victory in the league at the weekend over Granada has allowed them to cut Real Madrid’s lead at the top of the league to just two points. Now, only Villarreal stand between them and a 36th appearance in the Spanish Cup final.
The blaugranes have the upper hand in the tie following their 3-1 win in the first leg last month at Camp Nou. For Wednesday’s second leg at El Madrigal (kick off 8.00pm CET) coach Luis Enrique has his entire first team squad available with the exception of the injured Thomas Vermaelen. The team trained for the last time ahead of the second leg on Tuesday with Luis Enrique naming an 18-man squad for the trip on Wednesday.
Villarreal coach Marcelino García Toral rested several players at the weekend for the team’s impressive performance in the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu. The likes of Víctor Ruiz, Musacchio, Vietto and former blaugrana Jonathan Dos Santos all started on the bench, yet appear likely to return on Wednesday against Barça. However, influential midfielder Bruno Soriano will be missing after fracturing a calf bone in the first leg at Camp Nou. Jokic, Adrián Marín and Rukavina all also miss out due to injury with Villarreal naming a 20 man squad for the game against Barça on Wednesday.
Barça coach Luis Enrique believes his side could not be in better shape coming into the second leg of the Cup semi-final: “This is the perfect moment in terms of results and form, And let’s hope we can turn that form into titles.” For the blaugrana boss there is no doubt about how they will approach the game: “The aim is to win the match. That way there can be no surprises.”
Villarreal boss Marcelino García Toral is under no illusions about the task facing his side in the second leg: “You can’t beat Barça with heart alone. You have to be very clever.”
Since triumphing in the first leg at Camp Nou against Villarreal, the blaugranes stretched their winning streak to 11 games thanks to a comprehensive 5-0 win at home to Levante in the league. Nevertheless, that run was broken in their next league clash when an early goal from Juanpi ended Málaga’s run of 12 straight defeats in the league at Camp Nou. Barça managed to pick themselves up from that defeat with consecutive away wins at Manchester City and Granada in the Champions League and La Liga respectively.
Villarreal were on an 18 game unbeaten run themselves before going down to a 3-2 defeat at Camp Nou in the league at the beginning of February. 11 days later they lost in the first leg of the Cup semi-final but since then Marcelino’s side have regained their form, losing just once in five matches. Defeat at Rayo in the league has been offset by excellent performances in the UEFA Europa League to eliminate Salzburg 5-2 on aggregate and set up an all la Liga tie in the last 16 against Sevilla as well as a win over Eibar in the league and last weekend’s draw in the Bernabéu.
Ones to watch
Both Luis Suárez and Javier Mascherano are a just booking away from suspension and therefore possibly missing the final should Barça make it through. Coach Luis Enrique was not oblivious to the fact and on Tuesday in his pre-game press conference he admitted it was “something he would take into consideration.”
Diego Simeone gave a 17 year old Luciano Vietto his debut in senior football when the current Atlético coach was in charge of Argentine side Racing Club de Avellaneda back in 2011, The diminutive striker made the move to Spanish football last summer and has been one of the revelations of the season, scoring 18 goals for the Yellow Submarine in all competitions, although he is yet to get off the mark in the Spanish Cup. Russian winger Denis Cheryshev will be back against Barça after sitting out the 1-1 draw at the weekend in the Bernabéu for contractual reasons given that he is currently on loan at Villarreal from Real Madrid.
The sides have already met three times this season with Barça winning on every occasion, twice in the league and once in the first leg of the Cup. However, Villarreal are unbeaten against Barça in the Cup at El Madrigal. In two previous ties they have won 1-0 and drawn 0-0 against the blaugranes at home - first back in the season 1970/71 and more recently in the season 2007/08. Both ties saw FC Barcelona go through following victories at Camp Nou.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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