STUTTERING SPANIARDS

STUTTERING SPANIARDS

Villarreal host Barcelona on Saturday night in La Liga as both sides look to bounce back from disappointing Champions League results in midweek. Villarreal suffered a 2-0 defeat at home at the hands of Michael Carrick’s Manchester United, a loss that left them facing a straight shootout for qualification with Atalanta on the final match day.

 

 

Barcelona too are under the threat of elimination from the Champions League, needing a win against Bayern Munich on the final match day after a drab 0-0 draw with Benfica on Tuesday. If Benfica win against Dynamo Kyiv, and Barcelona fail to beat Bayern, they will fail to qualify for the first time since 1998-99.

The two sides are also struggling domestically. Villarreal currently lie 12th in the Spanish league, with just 16 points from 13 matches. Unai Emery’s side could only manage a 1-1 draw against relegation battling Celta Vigo last time out.

 

 

Barcelona meanwhile are seventh in the league, 10 points off Real Madrid at the top of the table. Xavi made his managerial debut at the Camp Nou last weekend as a solitary Memphis Depay penalty handed his side the three points in the Catalan derby against Espanyol.

Both teams need a boost and the match is all set to be a fascinating, if not an entertaining, one.

 

TEAM NEWS

Unai Emery does not have a lot of injury concerns but the one player he is missing is arguably the most important one. Striker Gerard Moreno has been missing in action since the end of October and while he is nearing fitness, it is unlikely that he will be available for selection against Barcelona.

 

 

Villarreal Predicted Lineup: Rulli; Aurier, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Capoue, Parejo, Coquelin; Danjuma, Alcacer, Pino

Xavi has much more injury problems with Pedri, Martin Brathwaite, Sergio Aguero, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto all unavailable given their long-term absences. Defender Ronald Araujo is a doubt after being substituted due to an injury against Benfica late-on.

 

 

Ousmane Dembele returned to the fold off the bench on Tuesday and could return to the starting line-up while Oscar Mingueza is expected to be involved again.

Barcelona Predicted Lineup: Ter-Stegen; Dest, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, de Jong, Nico Gonzalez; Dembele, Depay, Gavi

 

GAME CHANGERS

Villarreal will rely on Spanish winger Yeremi Pino to take on a leaky Barcelona defence. The 19-year old has improved in leaps and bounds over the last couple of seasons and his raw pace and creativity has troubled the best of defences in recent months.

 

 

He is not only quick of feet, but also of mind. His positional awareness and ability to link well with his fellow attackers is invaluable and Emery will be hoping Pino can sprinkle a bit of his magic against the Blaugrana on Saturday.

Xavi has only been in charge for two games but there are already signs of a new, more attacking and more importantly, a more Barcelona style of play being implemented. At the heart of which lies veteran Sergio Busquets. The Spanish midfielder has been the metronome for Barcelona for over a decade now and he is set to be the centre-piece for the latest rebuild.

 

Sergio Busquets - Villarreal vs Barcelona preview

Courtesy: FC Barcelona/Twitter

 

Busquets rarely puts a foot wrong but Xavi will be hoping that his consistency can help Barcelona progress play further faster, something with which they struggled under Ronald Koeman. Villarreal have a staunch midfield of Capoue, Parejo and Coquelin and Busquets will need to step-up to dominate along with youngsters Nico and Gavi.

 

PREDICTIONS

The match is expected to be a cagey one with Barcelona looking to add stability under Xavi and Villarreal hoping to avoid defeat first. Villarreal’s last five matches have seen less than three goals scored while for Barcelona, five matches out of their last six have seen fewer than three goals. The encounter on Saturday is likely to be decided by a moment of quality and Barcelona are more likely to provide it. FootTheBall predicts Villarreal 0-1 Barcelona.

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