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La Liga preview: Villarreal vs Barcelona



Villarreal host Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday night as both teams try to recover from disappointing Champions League mid-week results. Villarreal suffered a 2-0 home loss to Michael Carrick’s Manchester United, a loss they faced a direct penalty shoot-out to qualify with Atalanta on the final day of the match.

Barcelona are also threatened with leaving the Champions League and have to win against Bayern Munich on Tuesday after a dreary 0-0 win against Benfica on Tuesday. If Benfica beat Dynamo Kiev and Barcelona fail to beat Bayern, they will fail for the first time since 1998/99.

At home, too, both sides are struggling. Villarreal is currently 12th in the Spanish league with only 16 points from 13 games. The team of Unai Emery could only achieve a 1-1 draw against the relegation battle against Celta Vigo.

Barcelona are now seventh in the league, 10 points behind Real Madrid at the top of the table. Xavi made his coaching debut at Camp Nou last weekend when a single Memphis Depay penalty earned his side three points in the Catalan derby against Espanyol.

Both teams need reinforcement and the game will be exciting, if not entertaining.

TEAM NEWS

Unai Emery doesn’t have major injury concerns but the player he misses is arguably the most important. Striker Gerard Moreno has been missing on the field since late October and while nearing fitness he is unlikely to be an option against Barcelona.

Expected formation of Villarreal: Rulli; Aurier, Albiol, Torres, Estupinan; Capoue, parejo, coquelin; Danjuma, Alcacer, Pino

Xavi has a lot more injury issues with Pedri, Martin Brathwaite, Sergio Agüero, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto, all of whom are unavailable due to their long absence. Defender Ronald Araujo is doubtful after being substituted off late against Benfica with an injury.

Ousmane Dembele returned from the bench on Tuesday and could return to the starting XI, while Oscar Mingueza is expected to be involved again.

Barcelona Expected formation: Ter Stegen; Dest, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, de Jong, Nico Gonzalez; Dembele, Depay, Gavi

GAME CHANGER

Villarreal will rely on Spanish winger Yeremi Pino to take on a leaky Barcelona defense. The 19-year-old has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few seasons and his raw pace and creativity have gotten the best defenses in trouble over the past few months.

Not only is he quick in the feet, but he’s also quick in the mind. His positional awareness and ability to bond well with fellow attackers are priceless and Emery is hoping that Pino can use some of his magic against the Blaugrana on Saturday.

Xavi has only been in charge for two games but there are already signs that a new, more offensive and, above all, more Barcelona style of play is being introduced. At the heart of this is the veteran Sergio Busquets. The Spanish midfielder has been the metronome for Barcelona for over a decade and will be the centerpiece for the latest makeover.

Sergio Busquets - Villarreal vs Barcelona preview

Courtesy: FC Barcelona / Twitter

Busquets rarely goes wrong, but Xavi hopes his consistency can help Barcelona move faster, something they struggled with under Ronald Koeman. Villarreal have a strong midfield with Capoue, Parejo and Coquelin and Busquets needs to step up to dominate alongside youngsters Nico and Gavi.

PREDICTION

The game is expected to be a hesitant game as Barcelona look to be more stable under Xavi and Villarreal in hopes of avoiding defeat first. Villarreal have scored fewer than three goals in their last five games, while five of their last six games have scored fewer than three goals for Barcelona. Saturday’s encounter will likely be decided by a moment of quality and Barcelona are more likely to make sure of that. FootTheBall Villarreal predicts 0-1 Barcelona.



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