Barcelona will be looking to kickstart a new era under Ronald Koeman with a win, when they take on Villarreal this weekend at home.
Barcelona have been dominating the headlines over the past couple of months, but for all the wrong reasons. From the La Liga title loss to the humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, from Lionel Messi trying to leave the club, to Luis Suarez actually leaving the club, the Catalans are pretty much in a state of turmoil.
Amidst all this, Ronald Koeman, brought in to replace Quique Setien, will be looking to guide the club through a period of tumult and back to the top of the pile in Spanish football. And the former Barcelona defender’s first assignment as manager will be against a tough opponent in Villarreal at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Barcelona head into the game on the back of victories against Gimnastic and Girona in their pre-season friendlies, while they also defeated Elche 1-0 for the Joan Gamper Trophy. Koeman will be hoping that his side are able to set aside all the negativity and carry the momentum forward from these wins, even though they were non-competitive fixtures.
Villarreal, having finished fifth last season, have started the season fairly well under the new management of Unai Emery. The Yellow Submarine kicked things off with a 1-1 draw against newly-promoted Huesca, and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Eibar. Currently sixth in the table, they will be hoping to pile on Barcelona’s misery with a victory this weekend.
The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-1 win for Barcelona, with goals coming from Antoine Griezmann and Arthur Melo, while Santi Cazorla scored for Villarreal. And ahead of their latest meeting at Camp Nou, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
With a number of players like Arthur Melo, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo and Luis Suarez leaving, there will be a semblance of new look to this Barcelona side heading into the new season.
Barcelona will be without the services of star goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen due to a knee injury, while Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite are expected to be unavailable as well for the season opener. There will be a change of system as well, with Koeman set to bring in his preferred 4-2-3-1 setup with a high-backline.
With no ter Stegen, Neto ought to start between the sticks on Sunday. Following Semedo’s departure, Sergio Roberto remains the only option at right-back for the Blaugrana, while Jordi Alba should slot in on the left. Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet pick themselves at the heart of the Catalans’ defence.
Koeman’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 might help Barcelona get the best out of Frenkie de Jong, who did not enjoy the best of the debut campaigns last time out. He is likely to be partnered by Sergio Busquets in the midfield double pivot, although Carles Alena and new signing Miralem Pjanic are also options at the manager’s disposal.
Philippe Coutinho will get another chance to make his name at Barcelona after a successful loan spell at Bayern Munich. The Brazilian impressed in pre-season and should start as the No. 10. Flanking him on the right will be Lionel Messi. Ansu Fati is expected to pip Ousmane Dembele and Trincao for the starting berth on the left.
Antoine Griezmann will spearhead the Barcelona attack following Suarez’s departure.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neto; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, de Jong; Messi, Coutinho, Fati; Griezmann
Ruben Pena and Alberto Moreno remain unavailable for Villarreal, while defenders Raul Albiol and Sofian Chakla are doubts, after picking up injuries in the previous game. The Yellow Submarine have switched to a 4-4-2 formation since Emery took over and are expected to set up in the said shape against Barcelona.
In goal, Sergio Asenjo is likely to be kept busy by the Barcelona attacking unit. Pau Torres will slot in at the heart of the defence, with Ramiro Funes Mori likely to partner him in Albiol’s absence. Mario Gaspar and new signing Pervis Estupinan ought to be the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively.
Dani Parejo, signed from Valencia, will oversee the creative duties from the centre of the park. Partnering him should be another summer recruit from Valencia in the form of Francis Coquelin, who will be tasked with protecting the Villarreal backline.
The threat from the wide areas will come from Samu Chukwueze and Moi Gomez, who will look to exploit the spaces left in behind by the Barcelona full-backs. Real Madrid loanee and former Barcelona academy ace Takefusa Kubo is also an option at the manager’s disposal.
Up front in attack, there is no looking past the Spanish duo of Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer, both of whom were on target against Eibar last time out.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Asenjo; Gaspar, Funes Mori, Torres, Estupinan; Chukwueze, Parejo, Coquelin, Gomez; Moreno, Alcacer
- Barcelona have not lost in their last 22 La Liga games against Villarreal (W16 D6). Their last defeat against the Yellow Submarine came in March 2008 at Camp Nou (1-2).
- Villarreal have only lost three of their last 11 matches on the road in La Liga (W7 D1), after having lost five of their previous six away games in the competition.
- Barcelona have won their last nine La Liga meetings with Villarreal at Camp Nou. The last time the Catalans failed to register a home win in the league against their weekend opponents was in January 201o.
- Villarreal manager Unai Emery has lost each of his 12 away games at Camp Nou in all competitions.
- Barcelona’s new boss Ronald Koeman has failed to win his three games as manager against Villarreal in all competitions (D1 L2).
Player to Watch
Who else but that man Messi? The little magician sent shockwaves through the footballing community last month when he submitted a transfer request to leave Barcelona. However, after the Catalans insisted that the only way he could leave is if a club meets his mind-boggling €700 million release clause, the 33-year-old decided to stay put.
While he may not be leaving, things are clearly not well between the player and the board. Messi looked unhappy and dejected while collecting the Joan Gamper Trophy, while he once again hit out at the board following Luis Suarez’s exit to Atletico Madrid.
Given everything that’s happened and is still happening, it will certainly be interesting to see how the 33-year-old superstar performs on Sunday. It goes without saying that Barcelona need him to be firing on all cylinders to start off with a win, but can Messi step up to the plate in the current situation? We’ll find out on Sunday evening.
Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal
Villarreal are unbeaten in the new season under new manager Unai Emery and will be more in tune than their opponents after having played two competitive games already. Barcelona, meanwhile, have shown positive signs on the pitch under Ronald Koeman in the pre-season even though the club continues to be mired by off-field issues.
Playing at Camp Nou, where they haven’t lost to Villarreal in a long time, Barcelona should be able to prevail on Sunday, with Lionel Messi leading from the front. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a narrow 2-1 win for the last season’s runners-up.