Barcelona host Villarreal in an attractive tie, though let's not fool ourselves--the financial disparity between the two clubs is huge, and that is certainly reflected on the pitch. Villarreal fans would probably be delighted to be going through the "crisis" the blaugrana are apparently dealing with--what is this crisis, exactly?--while a front trio of Neymar, Suarez and Messi is scary, to be sure.
Villarreal, however, enters having scored in every match since September 27, and the Submarine's last loss was way back in November 6 against Zurich in the Europa League. Add to that the fact that recent encounters with Barca have been close affairs (0-1 loss at El Madrigal in late August, 2-3 and 2-1 losses last season) and there is some reason for optimism.
And yet. Villarreal has had terrible luck against Barca the last couple of years. Last year in El Madrigal, Barca stormed back from a 2-0 deficit with not one, but two own goals. Whether it was the Tito effect or the banana thrown at Dani Alves, we'll never know. As for the encounter in the Camp Nou, a very questionable penalty gave Barca their first goal.
Maybe our luck will change??
Villarreal's squad for the match:
- Keepers: Asenjo y Juan Carlos.
- Defenders: Mario, Rukavina, Jaume Costa, Víctor Ruiz, Dorado and Musacchio.
- Midfielders: Bruno, Pina, Jonathan dos Santos, Trigueros, Cheryshev, Moi Gómez and Campbell.
- Strikers: Vietto, Gerard Moreno, Gio and Uche.
Haven't seen their squad choice yet, but Mr. Shakira might miss out for family reasons, his wife about to give birth and all. But the real question is simply motivation. With the squad they have (whoever the final XI actually is) Barcelona is always going to be expected to win at home against the rest of the league. When they have failed, it's usually been through a combination of bad luck and lack of application.
Keys to the game:
Villarreal have to defend well and establish some possession of their own--if Barca have 65-75% of the possession, we don't have a strong enough defense to hold out indefinitely without being able to relieve the pressure and create some chances ourselves.
But if Cheryshev and Vietto can work some magic, and especially if we could take a lead at the Nou Camp, Barca could get nervous. The blaugrana can struggle when they don't impose their will on a team early. With Villarreal playing to win rather than get out of town with a loss, will Barcelona be able to step it up a gear?
Villarreal have to create chances--and they might not be able to create a lot--but when they do, they need to finish. This is not going to be a match where we have ten or more shots on goal--more likely, three or four. We have to make one at least count.
Both teams have been in form, but Villarreal's run of undefeated matches covers up the fact that they have been giving up away goals of late, including two each to Elche and La Real, not exactly in the same level as Barca when it comes to attacking flair.
With the Copa semifinal coming up between these two clubs, Marcelino might be inclined to play around a bit and see what works more or less well when it comes to defending the Barcelona attack. I think the Submarine will be competitive, but ultimately Barcelona will get through, though it might take some "luck" or the usual friendly refereeing to pull them through. I'd say there's about a 15-20% chance we get anything out of this game.
Barcelona 2 Villarreal 1