Villarreal return to league action with a match at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, not exactly the easiest assignment one could wish for after a trip to Glasgow. At least we should have a pleasant bus ride up the coast in our brand new bus!!
Barcelona do have a long injury list, including Luis Suarez, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha, but Ivan Rakitic is available after suspension. Unfortunately for Villarreal, Lionel Messi is fit as a fiddle, and his form, at age 31, is as fine as ever.
I don’t always put a lot of faith in the WhoScored ratings, but in Barca’s last ten matches where Messi has played (all competitions) he’s been the man of the match in seven of them. He must be slipping though—after two perfect ‘10’ ratings in the Champions League, he slipped to a ‘9’ last week :)
What makes this year’s Barcelona side rather hard to figure out is that under Ernesto Valverde, a coach who has generally been known for coaching a pretty good defense, they are leaking goals like crazy. Last year they allowed 29 goals in 38 matches (and scored 99), this year, they’ve already allowed 19 goals in 13 matches. Of course, they’ve scored 35!
Rayo 2-3 Barcelona; Barcelona 3-4 Betis; those are not Barca-type scores. Still, with Messi, Phillipe Coutinho, and €105m signing (gasp!) Ousmane Dembelé, even without Suarez goals are flowing.
Villarreal would love to be able to put a few goals away against this suspect defense, but as anyone following the Yellow Submarine knows, scoring goals has been a problem. After signing Carlos Bacca, Gerard Moreno and Toko Ekambi, while paying little attention to shoring up our defense, you would have thought we might have—oh, say, 20 goals to our account by now—but we have only 13. At least we have scored multiple goals in our last two league matches.
All the news in Vila-real at the moment is about 19 year-old Samuel Chukwueze, who has scored two of those goals and seems set to be a breakout star. Coach Calleja hasn’t released his team call yet, but expectations are young Samu and Gerard Moreno will get the starting nod up top.
All-time record: Oh, you had to ask, didn’t you. We’re 3-4-11 at the Camp Nou, and two of those three wins came the first two times we played them in the league. Our last win was in March 2008, when a Marcos Senna penalty and a Jon Dahl Tomasson goal with ten minutes left gave us a 2-1 win. (Yes, boys and girls, in those days Barcelona did get penalties called against them at home—and yes, Santi Cazorla started and played 90 minutes in that one).
Since then? Well, our last point was in the 2009-10 season, and in recent years most matches at the Camp Nou have not been very competitive. 5-1, 4-1, 3-0....Villarreal have usually hung tough for an hour or so (the last really close match, in February 2015 ended 3-2) but in the end Barca have turned the screws and added a late goal or two.
For whatever reason, although we’ve enjoyed success against Atleti, Real Madrid, and Valencia, it’s been Barcelona (and to some extent Sevilla, too) who have consistently handled us. In Barca’s case, it’s partly been Messi, but in general at the Nou Camp we just haven’t been able to win enough of the ball to give our defense a rest.
Prediction: Our chances might be a bit better if we can open up the Barcelona defense, but stopping Messi and his supporting cast is just too big an ask. If our front line was going great guns, maybe we could get in a shootout and win this, but as it is, our best hope lies in scoring early and...er.... parking that brand new bus in front of our goal, which isn’t terribly likely. I’d be delighted to be wrong, but sorry to say, I’m picking Barca, 3-1.