UPDATED - See Previews Below--
This is a bit abbreviated because of time constraints - heading out of town until Sunday. Will be back with highlights and a recap then...maddi.
Diego Godín and Gonzalo are aware of the steep challenge that faces the Yellow Submarine in traveling to the Camp Nou on Sunday. It is not an easy place to take three points (or one point), and our last performance there, though in the Copa del Rey, showed clearly. Godín noted, "The game will be harsh and with many complications." His fellow South American Gonzalo said, "It's going to be a difficult match, but one that will generate a lot of excitement." But the two defenders have formed a solid back wall as of late - allowing a paltry 0.4 goals per La Liga match. Prior to Gonzalo's return from injury, Villarreal was allowing 1.57 goals per match. They have also been spending a lot of time together - apparently putting aside any Uruguayan-Argentinian rivalry. Unfortunately, it appears Gonzalo might be out with a thigh issue, which would put Cygan as the man in the middle with Godin - which is always a great thing or a terrible thing - nothing in between.
Senna also has acknowledged the importance of the match. "A win would bring us closer to Barcelona and that would help us to defend the Champions League position; although the title of League is not our war, it would help us to fight for everything." He went on to add, "we must win first and foremost be one hundred percent concentrated."
Barcelona come in slightly weakened, following Messi's shock injury. While this might make things a bit easier on Villarreal (don't forget Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Henry, Bojan, dos Santos...), it very well may be a motivating tool for the Catalan giants. Barcelona are facing a number of other injuries as well, mainly to the defense: Marquez and Oleguer are out, and YaYa Toure is doubtful. Milito, though, is back, and will probably be paired with Thuram in the back line, as Puyol is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation.
Perhaps, with Barcelona's back line somewhat in tatters, and with Rossi back, Villarreal can return to the more offensive mode of earlier in the season when goals were easy to come by. Nihat will be looking to start, as he has been very upset with the fact that he has been pulled early in recent matches. Maybe a weakened defense and a return of Nihat's strike partner Rossi (if he starts) is what is needed to get the Villarreal offense off the snide against an offensively overwhelming Barca squad.
But Barcelona know their backs are up against the wall if they want any chance at winning the league title, especially after being squarely defeated against Atletico last week. Henry said every game is like "a League final" now. Knowing the kind of numbers they can put up, that is a little frightening.
Injuries: Gonzalo is questionable, as is Capdevila. Fuentes is out, of course. Rossi has been training, so will probably play, but it isn't clear if he will start. Cani is also questionable.
Probable starting XI: Diego Lopez; Angel, Godin, Cygan, Capdevila; Pires, Senna, Eguren, Cazorla; Nihat, Guille Franco.
Previews: Sorry, no direct links to them, as they have not been published yet, but Goal.com does have a brief mention of the match in its general La Liga preview for Round 27. And here is Goal.com's preview of the match, predicting a 2-1 victory for the home squad.
Prediction: Barca 2-2 Villarreal. A point would be great from this match at the Camp Nou. If it was at El Madrigal, I would expect all three, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.
If you do not have GolTV or another channel showing the match, you can follow it on ESPN Gamecast or, more accurately but in Spanish, at Marca.com (sorry - I do not have a direct link to their live commentary). And as always, thanks for the comments and email - it is great to hear from fellow Villarreal fans from all over the world.