Camp Nou, Barcelona
Sunday, February 1; 21:00 Hrs CET
In form FC Barcelona face Champions League hopefuls Villarreal at Camp Nou tonight and coach Luis Enrique must prepare his players to meet the challenge of facing high flying Yellow Submarine, who are on an unbeaten run of 18 games in all competitions.
FC Barcelona suffered a shocking defeat in their first game of 2015, but the Blaugrana have recovered well since then as they are on a winning streak of 8 games. But Luis Enrique’s men mustn’t take visitors Villarreal lightly as they are looking in excellent touch right now.
Villarreal on the other hand, are just three points behind fourth placed Valencia and they have a realistic chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season.
FC Barcelona had to work extremely hard to secure 3-2 win over Atletico Madrid in the midweek. And they can expect a similar challenge from Marcelino managed Villarreal tonight.
Since losing to Real Sociedad earlier this month, Luis Enrique’s FC Barcelona have respoended in style as they have won 8 consecutive games. But FC Barcelona are still trailing Real Madrid by one point with Los Blancos having a game in hand. Luis Enrique will not accept anything but a win from his players against Villarreal tonight as any negative result will have a disastrous effect on their title challenge.
The midfield of FC Barcelona was struggling badly in the latter half of 2014 but now, it appears that they have found their rhuthm back as the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquetes, Javier Mascherano (whenever he plays in the central area of the pitch) and Andres Iniesta are looking in a good touch.
The defence of FC Barcelona has looked well settled in recent weeks as well. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano are looking in a great touch in the new year.
The duo of Messi and Neymar are also in a fine run of form. Neymar was the best player of FC Barcelona in a midweek game against Atletico Madrid as his brace helped the Catalans to secure their birth into the semis of Copa Del Rey. The biggest headeche for Luis Enrique at the moment is poor form of Luis Suarez.
Suarez moved to FC Barcelona in a deal worth 80 million euros but the Uruguayan has failed to make his mark so far.
Meanwhile, Luis Enrique has almost a full squad to pick from, with Douglas and Thomas Vermaelen the only two set to miss out due to the long term injury.
And speaking ahead of this crunch tie against Villarreal, FC Barcelona coach Luis Enrique vowed to break the unbeaten run of the El Madrigal side.
Luis Enrique said: “We’ll be looking to beat them and put an end to their run, but they are a tough opponent because of their footballing philosophy. They won’t just come to defend, they attack really well too”.
“if we don’t press them, we’ll be in trouble. We had plenty of chances in the first game this season, but it was a hard job to beat them”.
The FC Barcelona coach also praised his players, especially Neymar, for their fine ‘behaviour’ against Atletico. “All the players behaved perfectly. Neymar is playing his best football at the Club since he arrived. He’s with the right team to become an epoch making figure”.
Predicted Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Suarez, Messi, Neymar
Villarreal are unbeaten in all competitions since 6th November. But this enviable record faces a serious threat from FC Barcelona as the Catalans are on a winning streak of 8 games and it is always very difficult to avoid a defeat at Camp Nou.
Villarreal defender Gabriel Paulista signed for Arsenal this week but this is not expected to have a much impact on the quality of their defence as Musacchio and Mario Gaspar are capable enough to handle the responsibility in the longer run for the club.Villarreal’s defensive record is also very impressive as they have kept four clean sheets in a row, however, they are the clear underdogs to earn a result against FC Barcelona.
Villarreal have also signed Joel Cambell on loan from Arsenal but he is unlikely to start this game.
The Yellow Submarine have played attractive passing game under Marcelino this season and the dream of Champions League football has started looking realistic for the El Madrigal based sides’ fans as they are just 3 points away from Valencia. And Villarreal players will be working extra hard against FC Barcelona tonight to maintain their hopes of Champions League football alive.
But Villarreal coach Marcelino is aware of the challenge ahead of him and he has asked his players to remain ambitious against FC Barcelona.
“We’re just going to try to do the best we possibly can and be competitive. It’s not going to be easy, FC Barcelona is a great rival and they’re in their best form of the season. We will try to be ambitious and enjoy the day.”
“We will need to be very efficient in front of goal, defend well – we know that we will be playing a side who tend to have 70 per cent possession so we are going to need a lot of mental strength in chasing FC Barcelonato win the ball back. They will attack us a lot like any other team so we need to take our chances. Barça have upped the pressure and intensity to their game quite a lot in comparison to last season.”
Predicted Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Sergio Asenjo; Mario Gaspar, Musacchio, Jaume Costa, Victor Ruiz; Bruno, Dos Santos, Moi Gomez; Trigueros, Uche, Vietto
Player To Watch Out For
Neymar has scored 21 goals so far this season and he is looking in a fine touch at the moment. Neymar was again on the scoresheet in a Copa del Rey game against Atletico Madrid and he will try to continue his great run against Villarreal tonight.
FC Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal
The current form of FC Barcelona is such that Villarreal will find it extremely difficult to maintain their unbeaten record intact against the Luis Enrique’s men tonight. Expect the Catalans to give Villarreal a run for their money tonight.
Blast From The Past