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Something's gotta give for a pair of red-hot league rivals set to square off at Camp Nou on Sunday at 9.00pm (CET) as FC Barcelona are back at home to host Villarreal, with both teams looking to extend their winning streaks.
Claudio Bravo and Sergi Roberto are the only new faces with respect to the squad that played midweek at the Vicente Calderón in the cup. They take the places of Jordi Masip and Marc Bartra, while Douglas and Vermaelen are also out through injury.
The complete squad is as follows: Ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Gerard Piqué, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Pedro, Andrés Iniesta, Luís Suárez, Leo Messi, Neymar, Rafinha, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Dani Alves and Mathieu.
The team’s first session to get ready for Villarreal was on Friday, as they were rewarded with a day off on Thursday following Wednesday night’s physical 3–2 victory over Atlético de Madrid in the Spanish Cup quarter-finals. Barça spent Saturday morning at the Ciutat Esportiva working on their final preparations.
The day after Barça knocked Atlético out of the tournament, Villarreal won their own quarter-final tie by eliminating Getafe, thus setting up a Cup semi-final, to be played in February and March, between Sunday’s Liga opponents.
Luis Enrique deserves a lot of credit for the way his team have played over the last few weeks. But despite a string of impressive results that have the squad’s confidence level at its high-water mark so far this season, the Barça skipper is not taking anything for granted. “If we don’t press them, we’ll be in trouble,” he warned.
At Saturday’s press conference, Luis Enrique acknowledged that Villarreal represent an enormous challenge as one of the few teams Barça will face all year that eschew a purely defensive approach. “They won’t just come to defend, they attack really well too,” he said.
Meanwhile, Villarreal coach Marcelino has repeatedly implied that his team are living a dream. Enjoying unprecedented success this season — Villarreal have never hoisted a major trophy — they are now sailing in uncharted territory.
Barça are looking to get their fourth win in a row in La Liga. Ever since they opened 2015 by falling at Anoeta back on 4 January, the culers have been unstoppable. In their last seven games overall, they have beaten both Elche and defending Liga champs Atlético three times each — once in the league and twice in the Cup — while also besting Deportivo along the way. The blaugranes currently sit in second place in the league table, four points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid, who beat Real Sociedad on Saturday and also have a game in hand.
Villarreal may just be the hottest team on the planet right now. They are unbeaten in their last 18 games overall — including 10 straight in the league — with their last defeat in any competition coming in a 3–1 home loss to Valencia in La Liga way back on November 2. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that they have only lost once on the road this season, the fewest in the league. They also haven't given up a goal in their last 376 minutes played. Villarreal are currently sixth in the table and could move into fourth place with a win over Barça and some help from Valencia and Sevilla.
Ones to watch
While FC Barcelona’s offensive trident is always quick to grab the headlines, this week the culer defence will be thrust into the spotlight as Villarreal are expected to be reluctant to sit back in their own end. Although we won’t know who Luis Enrique will task with holding down the fort until around an hour before kick-off, Barça’s defensive line is certain to be a major factor in front of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. Both Dani Alves and Gerard Piqué are one yellow away from being sanctioned.
Whoever does start for Barça on the back line will have to keep a close eye on Villarreal striker Luciano Vietto, who leads the team with nine goals. Another player sure to garner attention will be Jonathon dos Santos, who spent 12 years climbing up the ladder at La Masia, eventually debuting with the first team in the 2012/13 season. And he won't be the only Dos Santos. Jonathon's older brother and fellow Mexican national team member Giovani, who also played for Barça until 2008, will likely see some action.
FC Barcelona have been the victors in Villarreal’s last three visits to Camp Nou, outscoring them by a count of 10–2…There have only been two hat-tricks in the history of this rivalry, with Patrick Kluivert doing it for Barça back in 2001 and Diego Forlán getting Villarreal’s in 2005…Ten current Barça players — Adriano, Piqué, Iniesta, Xavi, Alves, Pedro, Messi, Rakitic, Neymar and Sandro Ramírez — have scored at least one career goal against Villarreal. Among them, only Adriano (Sevilla), Piqué (Zaragoza) and Rakitic (Sevilla) scored while playing for other teams…Only two current Villarreal players — Musacchio and Trigueros — have previously scored a goal against Barça.
Luis Enrique has two wins and a draw in three career games coached against Villarreal, while Marcelino has never beaten Barça as a coach, only managing two draws and seven losses in nine career games.
The game is being shown live in Catalonia on Canal+ 1 / HD / 30, and Canal+ Yomvi. Coverage in the United States will be on SiriusXM FC, beIN SPORTS CONNECT, beIN Sports en Español, and beIN Sports USA; in the UK it will be on Sky Go, Sky Sports 5/HD, and Sky Go Extra.
No matter where you are in the world, we have you covered. And remember, you can also listen to live play-by-play in English on Radio Barça. The radio link will appear on www.fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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