After tasting defeat in their first fixture of the new year, Barcelona will be looking to bounce back as they travel to El Madrigal to take on the Yellow Submarine.

The 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey served as a wake up call to the Blaugrana, who need to get their act together if they want to remove rivals Real Madrid from their perch atop the La Liga table.

They face a tough challenge in Villarreal in their first La Liga match of 2017. The Yellow Submarine have exceeded expectations this season, sitting pretty in fifth position and just five points behind their storied opposition.

Fran Escriba’s men will be looking to channel the spirit they showed in their 3-0 triumph over Atletico Madrid in mid-December, as another big upset would provide added sheen to an already excellent season for Villarreal.

Probable Line-up & Tactics:

Villarreal

Villarreal will be missing midfield metronome Bruno Soriano, but summer signing Roberto Soriano will hope to be a more than able replacement in the midfield to a certain extent. They will also be without two potent attacking threats in Roberto Soldado and Denis Cheryshev.

The Yellow Submarine can however, boast of enough top class players to be able to give Barcelona a run for their money. Fran Escriba has picked up from where former manager Marcelino left off in converting Villarreal into a free flowing, attacking outfit.

Escriba will likely start with a conventional 4-4-2 formation, and the players are all attuned to working within that set-up. Despite the attacking threat of Barcelona, expect Villarreal to hold a high line and look to build up attacking play from the middle of the park.

Probable Starting XI: Asenjo; Gaspar, Ruiz, Musacchio, Costa; Castillejo, Trigueros, Soriano, Dos Santos; Pato, Sansone

Barcelona

The Blaugrana are still recovering from that defeat to Athletic Bilbao, and are likely to go in with all guns blazing against the Yellow Submarine. The 4-3-3 formation will see the two midfield veterans Busquets and Iniesta take centre-stage, as they dictate play in the middle.

The two full-backs are likely to gallop forward, leaving the central defensive duo as the only players playing out of Barca’s own half for most of the game. However the attacking onus lies on their much coveted trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

Of late it seems like the tiki-taka system at Barcelona is taking a backseat to the individual brilliance of the South American attackers.

Probable Starting XI: Ter Stegen; Vidal, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Gomes, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar 

Key Stats

  • Barcelona haven’t lost to Villarreal in their last 16 encounters in all competitions.
  • The Blaugrana  have scored at least two goals in their last five games against Villarreal in all competitions.
  • The Yellow Submarine have won six of their last seven La Liga home games.
  • Barca have won nine of their last 11 La Liga games away from home.
  • Villarreal have scored at least two goals in six of their last seven La Liga home games.

Player to watch out for

Lionel Messi

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi (L) of FC Barcelona controls the ball next to Charly Musonda of Real Betis Balompie during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

BARCELONA, SPAIN – AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi (L) of FC Barcelona controls the ball next to Charly Musonda of Real Betis Balompie during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The Argentine wizard relinquished the Ballon d’Or to arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo this year. The Portuguese goal machine won the Champions League and Euro 2016 this past season. This will surely inspire Messi to take his game up to its peak, such is the competitive spirit between two of the greatest in the game today.

Messi is widely considered to be one of the best footballers of all time, and will be weaving his magic for Barcelona in this key clash.

Prediction

Villarreal 1- 2 Barcelona

The Yellow Submarine have enough fire power to trounce the Catalan giants, especially at home in El Madrigal. However Barcelona are up against the wall now, with Real Madrid and Sevilla ahead of them in the title race, and the Blaugrana are sure to come at them swinging.

The match promises to be a competitive encounter, with both teams going back and forth. But it will probably end up being a hard fought victory for Barcelona, their first win of the year 2017.