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Match Preview: Villarreal - Barcelona

Well, this is a match we have all been waiting for with anticipation or dread. Villarreal have the opportunity to break out of their annual terrible midseason slump with a loud statement to the rest of Spain and Europe.

Barcelona. Not much else to say this year. Just look at their last few Spanish matchups. 2-0 Madrid. 4-0 Valencia. Sevilla 0-3. There is probably not another club in the world, playing at their best, who would put up 9 against those three without an answer. And now it is up to stumbling, bumbling Villarreal.

Villarreal had a good thing going in the last match against Sevilla - trying to recover their defensive presence (which, if you look back, surprisingly started with a match against Aalborg - not the team that you would necessarily picture to throw Villarreal off so far), and successfully so (I realize that they gave up a lot of chances, and if not for Diego Lopez, especially in the second half, things could have gotten ugly, but a lot of that was because we had to push forward), until that questionable goal at the half. After that first defensive-minded first half, Villarreal were unlucky to have Llorente sent off with his second yellow, but were still undeterred. The attacking in the second half, even without Rossi and Nihat, was not shy. It really felt, towards the end of the half, that the chances were coming back. Notably, the chances came with Pires and Senna on the bench.

This week, Villarreal have not been shy about their willingness to take on the best team in the league. Pires, Eguren, and Cazorla have all in effect challenged Lionel Messi and the rest of the blaugrana to bring their best. It might be a good approach. If Villarreal approach the match with the confidence that their last 10 matches would properly instill, they are going to be frozen with fear. Sometimes it take a little artificial confidence to push the good play to the surface. And you have to think that Barcelona know they are not invincible, and that they will drop a few points here and there.

Barcelona bring basically a full squad to El Madrigal. Marquez is still questionable, and his status will not be known until later today. Gabi Milito is a long-term injury. Other than that, everyone is there. Eto'o. Messi. Henry. Bojan. Xavi. Iniesta. Ouch.

Villarreal are short Llorente after his recent expulsion. And that is a huge loss, considering the offensive firepower we are going to need. It would be great to be able to put him up top with Rossi. Javi Venta is of course still nursing an ankle injury. Altidore, Cygan, and Edmilson are left out of the call. Villarreal's squad:

Keepers: López, and Viera
Defenders: Ángel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevilla, and Fuentus
Midfielders: Cazorla, Senna, Eguren, Pires, Ibagaza, Cani, Bruno, and Matías
Forwards: Nihat, Franco, and Rossi

There is argument that Villarreal would go with a 4-2-3-1, after their double against Barcelona last season with the formula. I actually really like the idea, based on Villarreal's inability to hold any possession last week against Sevilla (or in recent memory). And they will need a strong midfield to be able to help control Barcelona's midfield.

Ángel, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevilla
Senna, Eguren,
Cazorla, Ibagaza, Pires/Mati

I would like to see Mati in there, but I expect it to be Pires. Who knows, maybe Pires can pick up a couple more penalties against Barcelona? As far as a prediction, I seem to be eternally the optimist. This week, that changes, and I am going for pessimism. I do think we can keep it close, if our defense and Lopez stand up like they did against Sevilla, but I still would expect us to drop all three points, based on the way things are going. Villarreal 1-2 Barcelona.