Reigning champions Barcelona will look to reclaim top spot in the La Liga, when they face off against Villarreal at Camp Nou this weekend.

Barcelona will look to get back to winning ways in the La Liga, when they welcome a struggling Villarreal outfit to Camp Nou on Sunday night.

Ernesto Valverde’s men have failed to pick up maximum points from their previous two league encounters, having been beaten 3-4 by Real Betis before they were held to a 1-1 draw by Atletico Madrid this past weekend. The Catalans did manage to beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 in Europe earlier this week and will be aiming to carry that momentum into the weekend clash.

Heading into the game, Barca are currently seated in the second spot in the La Liga standings, just a point adrift of Sevilla, who sit at the top. With the league leaders set to play after Barcelona, the tie offers Valverde’s side a great chance to keep up the pressure and reclaim the top spot at least temporarily.

Villarreal, on the other hand, are languishing in the 16th place in the table, just two points above the relegation zone. Javier Calleja’s men ended a six-match winless streak in the league last weekend, when they defeated Real Betis 2-1, following which they played out a 0-0 draw against Rangers in the UEFA Europa League.

The Yellow Submarine were mauled 5-1 in the corresponding fixture in the last season and Calleja will be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time out and lead his team to a huge upset victory against the reigning La Liga champions.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Star striker Luis Suarez will not be available once again for the Catalans as he recovers from a knee injury, while summer signing Arthur Melo is also expected to miss out, having not trained with the team prior to the game.

Rafinha Alcantara is a long-term absentee for the hosts, whereas Sergi Roberto, Sergi Samper, Jasper Cillesen and Thomas Vermaelen are unavailable as well. Samuel Umtiti, who returned to action only last week, is a doubt to feature due to a knee problem.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen is a guaranteed starter between the sticks for the home team. Nelson Semedo should continue at right-back in Roberto’s continued absence, while Jordi Alba is certain to feature from the kick off on the left side of the defence. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet should pair up at the heart of the defence once again.

With Arthur unavailable, fellow summer arrival Arturo Vidal should get another go in the middle of the park on Sunday. Partnering him will be mainstay Sergio Busquets, while Croatian international Ivan Rakitic is set to take up the third midfield slot, after having missed the last league game due to suspension.

With Suarez ruled out, club captain and superstar Lionel Messi will don the centre-forward role for the Blaugrana, with Philippe Coutinho expected to feature from the get go on the left flank. Ousmane Dembele should edge out summer signing Malcom for a starting berth on the right wing.

Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Dembele, Messi, Coutinho; 

Villarreal

Bruno Soriano and Javi Fuego are edging closer to a return but Sunday’s game will come too soon for the pair. Alvaro Gonzalez, who was suspended for the win against Real Betis last weekend, is back in contention for selection for the visitors.

Calleja should set his team up in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation with a diamond midfield. Andres Fernandez started in goal in the midweek game, but Sergio Asenjo should be reinstated to the starting XI for the weekend encounter.

The custodian will be shielded by a back four that will be made up of Mario Gaspar and Jaume Costa as the full-backs, with Alvaro Gonzalez and Victor Ruiz in the centre.

Santiago Caseres should keep his place at the base of the midfield for the Yellow Submarine on Sunday. Veteran midfielder Santi Cazorla did not start against Rangers, but should come back into the side alongside Manu Trigueros, with the supremely talented Pablo Fornals expected to take the playmaking slot behind the strikers.

Gerard Moreno did not start in the midweek game but should be come back into the team on Sunday. He is likely to be paired up with teenage attacker Samuel Chukwueze, who has been in very good form in recent weeks.

Probable Starting XI (4-1-2-1-2): Asenjo; Gaspar, Ruiz, Gonzalez, Costa; Caseres; Trigueros, Cazorla; Fornals; Chukwueze, Fornals;

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have not lost any of their last 18 LaLiga games against Villarreal (W13 D5), after losing in each of their previous three before this.
  • The Catalans have conceded at least once in each of their last 11 LaLiga games (19 goals), their worst such run in the competition since December 1998 (12 games).
  • Villarreal are winless in their last three LaLiga away games (D1 L2) – the last time they went four or more without a win in the division was in December 2016 (five games).
  • No side has won more points from losing positions than Barcelona in the top five European leagues this season (13, level with Borussia Dortmund).

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Barca's Captain Fantastic (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Barca’s Captain Fantastic (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The club captain took his tally for the season to 15 goals from 15 games, when he scored in the 2-1 win over PSV earlier this week, and also has eight assists to go along with. Messi enjoys playing against Villarreal and has scored the joint-most goals by any player against the Yellow Submarine in La Liga history, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (13 goals).

The 31-year-old was on the scoresheet in both the games against Villarreal last season and will be aiming to fire his team to a much-needed victory on Sunday at home.

Prediction

Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal

Barcelona have won just one of their last four games across all competitions (D2, L1) and are in need of a triumph if they are to keep up the heat on leaders Sevilla. Villarreal, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions, but have ended up on the winning side on just one occasion in those matches.

The Yellow Submarine haven’t won a single league game away from home since their 3-0 triumph against Athletic Bilbao back in September. And having failed to put away Rangers in the midweek – an opposition much less daunting than the Catalans, it does seem highly improbable that they will be able to spring up a surprise on Sunday.

As a result, we at The Hard Tackle are predicting Barcelona to go back to the top of the La Liga table, with a comfortable victory at Camp Nou.