In the past few years, Villarreal X Barcelona fixture has produced some great games. While everyone in the world knows about the tiki-taka of Barça the keener followers of La Liga knew Villarreal on their day can play a style of football as fabulous and slick as the Blaugrana.
The similarities don't end there. Both teams emphasize a lot on the cantera and tend to promote a lot of players from their youth sides. The fact that Barcelona B and Villarreal B are the only two B-teams in the Segunda division is a testimony to that. Bruno Soriano is 11th best in Europe just behind Sergi Busquets in the # of passes completed/game category despite being in a team fighting relegation.
Sid, Allen and Ravi preview the game
But the similarities end there. For one Villarreal doesn't nearly have the financial muscle of the Blaugrana, but let us concentrate on the football aspects here. Barça came off a great season of League-Champions League double and started where they left-off and won three more trophies in the 2nd half of 2011. The two Super Cups and the World Cup Championship. They have added two more star players to their squad in midfielder Cesc Fabregas and striker Alexis Sanchez. Both the players settled in very quickly and are making big contributions to the Barça cause. Both Cesc and Alexis scored against Villarreal in the 5-0 manita at the Camp Nou in the first game of the season.
That said, Barça's away form has been mediocre at best and if you discount the two clasicos at the Bernabeu, their away record is very poor. Lots of draws, a shock defeat at Getafe litter their away record. They will also come into this game without Alexis and Iniesta, two crucial starters. But despite all that, Barça are vastly superior to Villarreal.
The Yellow Submarine come off their first win in 2 months, this is a tough game if not an impossible one. Not so long ago Villarreal did a league double over Barcelona, in the final year of Rijkaard. Last year the Blaugrana eeked out a victory with a goal from Piqué. Not this season. It has been a nightmarish season for Villarreal and their troubles in all aspects of the game are well documented.
Match-ups & Tactics
3-4-3, 4-3-3, 3-5-2..scratch all that. This Barça team is so fluid in the midfield that assigning them a static formation would be an over-simplification of things. What we can say for sure is that there will Victor Valdes in the goal and a pair of central defenders, most likely Piqué and Mascherano a fullback and the remaining seven all can probably swap positions at any given time with ease.
Last year, Pep Guardiola made Villarreal's interiores Santi Cazorle & Cani defend their fullbacks by pushing them into attack. This ensured that Villarreal couldn't keep possession and dried up the supply to their forwards. Villarreal couldn't sustain many attacks in that game. Although Barça scored only one goal, they seemed in control of the game for the most part. We dont have Santi anymore and Borja Valero will take his place. Interesting to see if Pep will try similar tactics this time around.
The False '9':
With Alexis being ruled out because of a shoulder injury sustained against Real Madrid in the 2nd leg of the Copa del Rey and David Villa out on a long-term injury, Barça don't have a center forward in their squad anymore. I expect Messi to return to the False9 role in the middle (or may be even Cesc) in this game. We don't have big and physical defenders to shade away Messi. Gonzalo is slow, Zapata and Musacchio are error-prone and positionally weak. The unenviable task of stopping/containing Messi would fall to Bruno Soriano. That would leave Xavi(or Thiago) free. Trouble. You get the gist of it. It is like stopping the leaks in a Dyke with fingers. You run out of fingers in quick time.
Does Villarreal have any favorable match-up?
Unless Barça rests Xavi, Messi, Cesc, Busquets and a few others, I doubt it. Jokes apart, Marco Ruben if supported well enough can cause some trouble in the heart of the Barça defence. Piqué has been inconsistent and is prone to the odd error. Attacking left-back Joan Oriol goes up against another attack-minded fullback, Dani Alves. This promises to be an interesting match-up especially if majority of the game gets played on the left-side for Villarreal.
The Possession game
Barça dominate possession and generally need above 65% possession to dominate games. They haven't been able to do that consistently away from the Camp Nou. If Villarreal can get closer to 40% possession, they might be able to keep it close.
All in all, it is going to be a very tough game for Villarreal. Despite their injury woes, FC Barcelona has talented players allover the pitch, on the bench and in their B-team. Villarreal will try to put in a good performance at home but it will be hard for them to hold Barça. If they do, Barça in all likelihood would have kissed goodbye to the League title.
Hernán Pérez is a late scratch which means coach Molina wont have the option of playing 4-2-3-1 with Hernán attacking on the same side as Dani Alves. In Hernán's absence Molina could go for De Guzman and keep it 4-2-3-1 or play the same XI that beat Sporting last week. I'm inclined to think he will go for the latter. Nilmar is not in the squad for a second game in row due to his impending transfer to Sao Paulo.
FC Barcelona: 4-3-3
Vamos submarino! Endavant Villarreal
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