Barcelona must be pretty happy right now—the trip to the Ceramica figured to be one of their tougher matches they have left this season, and they couldn’t have picked a better time for it.
The Yellow Submarine are battered and bruised right now: recent results (2-3 Sevilla, 1-3 Leganés, both losses after taking a lead) have exposed Villarreal’s defensive frailities. But the real problem is the injury list, which is long and continues to grow.
Here’s the team call:
Keepers: Asenjo and Barbosa.
Defenders: Mario Gaspar, Alvaro, R. Semedo, A. Marín, Víctor Ruiz, Jaume Costa, Rukavina and Bonera.
Midfielders: Castillejo, Trigueros, Rodrigo, Soriano, Ramiro, Raba and Chuca.
I don’t know when Villarreal last included eight defenders among their 18 players, but Javi Calleja really has no choice. Sansone and Bacca are injured, the Italian for several weeks (Bacca nearly made it into the team this week but it was felt he shouldn’t be risked). Castillejo is just returning from injury; Fornals is out due to a medical issue in training; Cheryshev is injured. Bruno Soriano has not played all season.
If Villarreal were at anything near full strength, Bacca and Bakambu up front, with Castillejo, Trigueros and Fornals in midfield, would result in a tantalizing matchup.
But without Fornals and Bacca, I can see a lonely Sunday evening for Cedric Bakambu unless by some miracle Roberto Soriano recovers his besst form of last season and Casti is 100% back.
As for all those defenders, Semedo, shall we say, seemed awfully raw and his last match was back before Calleja became coach. I expect we’ll see the usual Jaume Costa-Ruiz-Alvaro-Mario Gaspar back four.
Barcelona: It’s a curious thing; most people, myself included, seem to feel Barca are not as good as they used to be, but they are undefeated (11 wins, 3 draws) and are five points clear of everybody. True, they haven’t tonked the opposition that badly (except for a couple of five-goal margins at home) but they have won, which is the main thing—2-0 at San Mamés, 2-1 against a surprisingly decent Getafe, 3-0 against Leganés. Yes, they have “struggled” a bit of late, with a home draw against Celta and an away draw at the Mestalla, but most of us would be happy to struggle like that .
Samuel Umtiti is definitely out, Andres Iniesta might be, and it’s possible Luis Suarez will sit in favor of Paco Alcacer, according to our sister site, Barca Blaugranes.
However, as long as Barca has that Messi guy, I think they’ll do pretty well.
All-time record: We are 5-4-8 at home, which doesn’t seem bad, but our last home win against Barcelona was in October 2007. That 3-1 win featured two penalties, each converted by Marcos Senna. Interestingly enough, Giovani dos Santos came on at halftime in that match for Barcelona. Last year we drew 1-1 in this fixture; a 90th minute Leo Messi free kick canceled out a Nicola Sansone goal.
Trivia: Well, not exactly trivia, but as a point of information, I’ve had a bottle of champagne in our fridge for awhile now, hoping to open it when we finally beat Barcelona—or Real Madrid, for that matter. Would be nice to crack it open this season!!
Prediction: My heart says another 1-1, my brain says probably 1-2 or 1-3 Barca. We just don’t have enough fit, in-form players right now I’m afraid.
Hopefully I will be proven wrong. Endavant Villarreal!!