Barcelona will be looking to further strengthen their grip at the top of the La Liga table, when they face off against Villarreal on Tuesday night.
Barcelona will embark on a trip to Estadio de la Ceramica this week, as they gear up to take on relegation battlers Villarreal in matchweek 30 of the 2018-19 La Liga on Tuesday.
Barcelona seem to be cruising on their way to another La Liga title. Fresh on the back of a 2-0 win over Espnayol in the Catalonian derby on Saturday, the Catalans will be aiming to build on that victory and stretch their lead at the top of the La Liga table to 12 points with a victory, ahead of a crucial tie against second-placed Atletico Madrid coming up at the weekend.
Villarreal, on the other hand, are battling for survival in the league. The Yellow Submarine find themselves in a precarious position in the 17th place, just a point above the relegation zone. While their form has improved of late, Javier Calleja’s men saw their four-match winning streak in all competitions halted this past weekend as Celta Vigo beat them 3-2.
The last time these two teams met back in December last year, Barcelona emerged triumphant 2-0 courtesy of goals from Gerard Pique and Carles Alana. Ahead of the big game on Tuesday night, we take a closer look at both set of squads.
Team News & Tactics
There are a number of injury concerns for Calleja to contend with going into the game as star striker Gerard Moreno is a major doubt, along with Jaume Costa. Miguelon, Manu Trigueros and captain Bruno Soriano are also likely to be unavailable. However, Villarreal will be boosted by the return of Ramiro Funes Mori, after his suspension for the last game.
The hosts are unlikely to tinker with their shape and are expected to stick with a three-man backline against the reigning champions. In goal, Sergio Asenjo will hold on to his spot, with Funes Mori set to return to the defence. The former Everton man will partner Alvaro Gonzalez and Victor Ruiz in the back-three.
Mario Gaspar will return to the right wing-back slot, having started at the heart of the defence last time out, while Alfonso Pedraza will start on the opposite flank. Vicente Iborra and Santiago Caseres will be tasked with shielding the defence from the midfield, while seasoned campaigner Santi Cazorla will don the role of the creator from the middle.
Karl Toko Ekambi is the leading scorer for Villarreal in La Liga this season with seven strikes. He should start against Barcelona on Tuesday night, partnering up with teenage prodigy Samuel Chukwueze in attack, with Carlos Bacca providing additional option from the bench.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Asenjo; Gonzalez, Ruiz, Funes Mori; Gaspar, Iborra, Caseres, Pedraza; Cazorla; Chukwueze, Ekambi;
Ousmane Dembele, Jasper Cillesen and Rafinha Alcantara all remain sidelined with injuries for Barcelona. Defenders Jean-Clair Todibo and Jeison Murillo have been excluded from the travelling party by manager Valverde while B team goalkeeper Inaki Pena is named in the squad.
With the key fixture against Atletico Madrid coming up at the weekend, there could be a few tweaks made to the starting lineup on Tuesday night. No changes are expected in goal though, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen the undisputed choice between the sticks.
Sergi Roberto could replace Nelson Semedo at right-back, while Jordi Alba should continue on the opposite side. Gerard Pique should hold on to his spot in the backline, but Samuel Umtiti could replace compatriot Clement Lenglet at the heart of the Barcelona defence.
Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are ever-presents in the Barcelona midfield and that is unlikely to change for the trip to Villarreal. Arthur Melo could be given a breather though, with Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal likely to get the nod in his stead.
Captain Lionel Messi and star striker Luis Suarez are guaranteed starters in attack. The third slot in attack could be taken up by summer signing Malcom after his impressive display from the bench against Espanyol. His compatriot Philippe Coutinho will make way.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Malcom;
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 19 La Liga meetings with Villarreal (W14 D5), having lost each of the previous three.
- Ernesto Valverde’s men are enjoying a 17-game unbeaten run in La Liga (W14 D3), the longest current streak among the top five European leagues teams.
- Villarreal have collected 29 points after 29 La Liga games this season. Of the last nine teams that have accrued 29 points at this stage of the season, only Osasuna in 2013-14 were relegated.
- Villarreal striker Karl Toko Ekambi has scored four goals in his last five league appearances at Estadio de la Ceramica, having failed to score in his previous eight games.
- No La Liga manager has beaten Villarreal on more occasions than Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde (10).
Player to Watch
With his double against Espanyol this past weekend, Barcelona captain and superstar Lionel Messi breached the 40-goal mark for the tenth consecutive season. The little magician from Argentina has been in sensational form recently and his past record against Villarreal doesn’t bode well for the home team.
Messi has been involved in at least one goal in each of his last five La Liga outings against Villarreal (five goals and one assist). Moreover, no player has scored more goals against the Yellow Submarine in La Liga history than the Barcelona captain (13, along with Cristiano Ronaldo). Expect him to cause all sorts of problems to the hosts on Tuesday.
Villarreal 1-2 Barcelona
Villarreal have been on a good run of form of late, having won four of their last five fixtures in all competitions. Javier Calleja’s side could have had five wins in five, but they yielded a two-goal lead to get beaten by Celta Vigo this past weekend.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have been in unstoppable form in La Liga. Led by the magical Lionel Messi, Ernesto Valverde’s side are unbeaten in their last 17 league outings and could very well wrap up the league title by the end of the month, should results go their way.
Villarreal will be no pushovers against Barcelona at home, but the form that the Catalans are in heading into the game, we at The Hard Tackle expect them to pick up another victory and take another step towards lifting the La Liga title.