Villarreal host Barcelona's B team on Saturday to kick off 2013. Hard to believe that only two years ago we had that wonderful day of football in Villarreal when our top two teams hosted the corresponding blaugrana sides, and we battled 'em pretty well.
Anyway, this will be the first time a Villarreal side has played Barca's B team since last February, when the teams played a 0-0 draw. In August 2011, Villarreal B won 2-0 in Barcelona with goals from Airam and Porcar--only Jaume Costa, who started, and backup keeper Ortolá remain from the 18 players coach Jose Molina took to Catalonia that day. What a difference a year can make!!
Villarreal: Rumors are Jony Pereira may get a start. We also know the Nigerian federation allowed us to use Uche in this one, so could it be Cavenaghi on the bench? Or is something else in store? It would make sense to return to the diamond formation in midfield with Bruno behind the two strikers, Senna as the holding midfielder, and Manu and Cani (or possibly Moi, or Hernán Perez, offering width.
The backline is a bit questionable only because Joan Oriol apparently was injured in practice. If he can't go, probably Jaume Costa would replace him, otherwise it's Musacchio, Mellberg, and Javi Venta. And Diego Mariño is still dealing with an injury, too, so expect to see the swashbuckling, vertically-challenged Juan Carlos in goal.
Our opponents: Barcelona B are currently eighth in the table, leading the Segunda in goals scored (40 in 19 matches) and nearly leading in goals conceded as well--only Real Madrid Castilla and Hércules have conceded more than the Baby Blaugrana's 31. I asked our friend Boštjan Černenšek, from our sister site Barca Blaugranes, for help understanding this--here's what he told me!
Allen: I haven’t seen Barca B play, but obviously offense is not a problem, defense on the other hand has been. Is that a reflection of personnel, or of the approach the team takes when they have a lead? (you’re going to have to explain to me how you can go from a 4-1 lead to a 4-4 draw with Girona, and have your keeper sent off!)
Boštjan: The offense of Barcelona B is certainly not a problem with many different scoring options - most notably wunderkind Gerard Deulofeu and one of the surprises of the season Luis Alberto. The defense however is a completely different story. And it could've been worse had Oier Olazabal and Jordi Masip not been terrific between the goalposts. The only bright spot in the backline is Alejandro Grimaldo, the 17-year old left-back, though right-back Patric has also had a few positive showings.
The heart of the defense, however, is a mess. The most used players have been the mildly incompetent David Lomban and the converted left-back Carles Planas. For some reason coach Eusebio doesn't trust Sergi Gomez, even though he clearly has the highest potential of all the center-backs on the team, but explaining Eusebio's decisions has become harder and harder.
The problem is also that this team isn't built to play defense, add that to the fact the Eusebio tells the team after taking the lead to defend and you have a recipe for disaster. If Barca B would continue to play possession football when in the lead the defense wouldn't concede so many goals.
Do I really have to talk about the Girona game? Well, it went quickly from 4-1 to 4-3 because the team got a little too comfortable with the commanding lead, but the fourth goal simply shouldn't have stood because of a blatant push by the eventual goalscorer Luso. Rafinha was in a perfect spot to clear the cross, but he was pushed to the ground which allowed Luso to score. That was also the reason Oier was sent off because he argued the non-call with the referee and earned a second yellow card. (Allen's note--Luso was the guy that got away with foul after foul against us!!)
A-What suspensions and injuries should we know about? I guess there really isn’t any transfer talk for the B team to worry about, is there?
B- With Oier picking up a red card we will probably see his backup Masip in the goal with Bañuz taking a place on the bench. Patric is also suspended for this game, so he'll probably be replaced by Ivan Balliu at right-back.
The injury reports have been somewhat slow with the winter break, but backup striker Jean Marie Dongou, starting midfielder/winger Cristian Lobato and starting center-back Lomban all missed the last game of 2012. However, I would expect at least two of the three to return.
No, the transfer period should go by without any additions to the Barça B team. Some players could leave though because of lack of playing time, with midfielders Jordi Quintillà and Miguel Ángel Sainz-Maza being to two most discussed players to leave on loan.
A- It’s hard to ask you how the team will fare over the second half of the season since promotion isn’t a possibility—but how do you expect Barca B will approach these games, especially in the last month or two of the season?
B--Despite the fact that promotion to the Primera isn't possible, the players go into games very motivated and usually play their hearts out. The problem with the results is often due to bad coaching and bad decision making by Eusebio. Had it not been for some amazing individual efforts by the talented youngsters - especially Deulofeu, Rafinha and Alberto - this team would be in a much worse position than it is now.
I don't think the players will lose the fight they have toward the end of the season - it hasn't been a problem in previous seasons. This team has tons of talent so a top-6 finish should be achievable, but including the factor of coaching I could see Barcelona B ending the season in places from 7 to 10.
A- And finally, you’ve seen everyone play now except Villarreal and Xerez. How do you see the second half of the season playing out? Are there teams you think will make a promotion push, or teams you see falling away?
B- I think Elche is a lock for automatic promotion with their amazing defense. The fight for 2nd place should be between Girona, Alcorcon, Almeria and Villarreal, but I believe Girona will edge out this battle (sorry, Villarreal fans). I just think Girona has too much firepower to drop out of second place. But not to disappoint you guys completely I think Villarreal will win the promotion play-off, edging Alcorcon in a tightly contested final.
Almeria should also easily make the promotion play-off, but the fourth team is difficult to predict. I don't think Ponferradina can keep this pace, which could give Las Palmas a chance to surprise. And let's not forget about Sabadell, who is one of the surprise teams this season and they could also make a strong push if they continue playing the way they are now.
There will be many streams for this match (kickoff at noon EST), and we'll be running a game thread, and I expect Barca Blaugranes will be doing so as well. And if you would like to check out their preview, and read what I said in response to their questions, go here....
ENDAVANT VILLARREAL! ENDAVANT EN L'ANY NOU!!