December 14, 2013, 20:00 GMT
Camp Nou, Barcelona
After a two week break, La Liga is back with leaders and defending champions FC Barcelona taking on Villareal CF at Camp Nou – a side that has been performing admirably this season after getting re-promoted last season in what was, as expected, a very brief spell in the second division for the Yellow Submarine. Barcelona, on the other hand, come from an emphatic 6-1 win over Celtic in the Champions League and will be looking to keep their title challenge going strong with a win this weekend.
Teams News and Tactical Brief
Before beating Celtic in such convincing fashion in midweek, the Catalans had recorded two defeats in a row against Ajax and, more crucially, against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga – a loss that allowed the sensational Atlético Madrid to join Barcelona at the top of La Liga. The common theme of those matches was the absence of Lionel Messi, something that is unfortuately set to remain the case until early 2014 as the mercurial Argentine is still recovering from his injury. But there’s life at Barcelona without Messi, as Neymar showed in midweek with a superb hatrick of goals against the Scottish champions; Tata Martino will be hoping the Brazilian can continue such rich vein of form and provide the inspiration the club need in the final third of the pitch. Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez are expected to start alongside him in attack.
At the back, Pinto will be the goalkeeper, with Montoya taking the place of the suspended Adriano, Piqué and Mascherano as the center backs and Jordi Alba on the left. Daniel Alves is still recovering and there’s no set date for his return yet. In midfield, Martino is likely to go with the golden trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta, although Fabregas might be given the nod over one of Xavi or Iniesta. From a strategic point of view, there will be very little surprises from Barcelona, they will attempt to impose their possession based game and suffocate Villareal from the very first minute. Anything other than a win could see the Catalans relinquish their lead in La Liga and, perhaps more importantly, see Real Madrid get closer and closer.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): José Manuel Pinto; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Martin Montoya; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Neymar
Villareal’s return to the first division has been quite a success so far; with a bulk of young players from the club’s cantera, Villareal have been playing some exquisite football all season long and currently sit 5th in La Liga, pretty much in the run for a Champions League spot. Their manager Marcelino and some of the players have shown the same ambition in their pre-match statements as the team has been showing on the pitch this season: Villareal won’t just travel to Barcelona to try and snatch a point like most sides do, they want to win the match and will adopt an expansive approach, trying to pressure Barceona high up the pitch and impose their game.
Marcelino is likely to opt for a 4-4-2 formation, with Asenjo in goal, a back four of Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel and Costa, Perez, Pina, Bruno and Cani in midfield, Uche and Pereita up front. Regardless of their attacking mindset, this is a matchup where Villareal will be forced on the backfoot far more than they like and are used to, it will require a lot of sacrifice from all the players to contain the blaugrana juggernaut, with even the strikers having to help in defensive missions. The key to unlocking the way to Barcelona’s goal will be quick and swift attacks exploiting the pace and trickery of Cani and Perez down the wings; needless to say, making the most of the opportunities they will get is of the utmost importance.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel, Costa; Perez, Bina, Bruno, Cani; Uche, Pereira
Key Match Facts
- Villareal have been the last team apart from the traditional big 2 to record a top 2 finish in La Liga, back in 2007/2008.
- The last match between the two sides at Camp Nou ended 5-0 to Barcelona.
- Barcelona have won every home game they played this season in every competition bar a 0-0 draw vs Atlético in the Spanish Super Cup.
Player to Watch Out For
Neymar (FC Barcelona)
The Brazilian has slowly but steadily been silencing his doubters and showing that he was a great signing for Barcelona. Fresh off scoring his first hatrick with the blaugrana jersey, all eyes will be on Neymar this weekend as the Camp Nou will be expecting another stellar performance. With Messi currently sidelined, Neymar has even more room to shine and display his full array of skills on the pitch.
FC Barcelona 3-1 Villareal
Villareal will put up some excellent resistance and create a substantial amount of chances, but in the end their defensive naivety will be exposed and Barcelona will end up securing the win, with Neymar and Sanchez on the score sheet.