Barcelona will be aiming to keep pace with rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid when they take on Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday.

Just six rounds of fixtures remain for the 2020/21 La Liga season to draw to a close and the title fight is as intense as it has ever been. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona are closely following Atletico Madrid, with the latter taking the field on Sunday evening, when they lock horns with Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica.

Villarreal seemed to be one of the top four contenders in the early part of the season, having been in and around top spot on the table for quite some time. However, a number of draws coupled with a few ill-timed defeats have sent them dropping down the table. Their recent form, though, has been promising, with Unai Emery’s men winning four of their last six games.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have not only gone on to get settled in under the tutelage of Ronald Koeman but have, in fact, been playing some of the best football in recent months. Heading into this weekend, the Blaugrana are five points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, but have their fortunes in their own hands, with a game against the Rojiblancos coming up.

The reverse fixture, played at Camp Nou way back in September, saw Barcelona cruise to a 4-0 win over Villrreal. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Villarreal

Unai Emery barely has any pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Sunday, the Villarreal manager will have to make do without as many as just two first-team players, with Vicente Iborra and Pervis Estupinan the only players sidelined.

Emery ought to set Villarreal up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Sergio Asenjo a certainty in goal for the hosts. In front of the 31-year-old, Raul Albiol and Pau Torres are likely to form the central defensive partnership, with Juan Foyth and Alfonso Pedraza starting as the two full-backs.

Up ahead in midfield, the onus will be on Etienne Capoue to keep things tight in the middle of the park and keep a lid on Frenkie de Jong and Pedri’s outputs. The Frenchman will receive defensive support from Dani Parejo and Manu Trigueros, both of whom will also provide the forward thrust from midfield.

Finally, in attack, the key man for Villarreal will be Gerard Moreno, who will take his place on the left flank, with Moi Gomez picking himself on the right wing. Former Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer will lead the line for the hosts.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Asenjo; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Parejo, Capoue, Trigueros; Gomez, Alcacer, Gerard Moreno

Barcelona

Unlike his counterpart in the Villarreal dugout, Ronald Koeman has a few important issues to tackle ahead of the trip to Estadio de la Ceramica. On Sunday, the Barcelona manager will be bereft of the services of as many as four first-team players.

There is some good news, though, with Ousmane Dembele fit and available after recovering from a minor issue. The Frenchman returns to the travelling squad along with Neto, but Miralem Pjanic, Ansu Fati, Philippe Coutinho and Martin Braithwaite miss out.

Dembele, though, is unlikely to make the starting lineup, with Koeman likely to prefer a 3-5-2 setup once again, which means Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi will form the strike partnership. The French forward, though, will be a game-changing option off the bench for Barcelona.

Koeman’s choice of formation means Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pedri pick themselves in midfield, with Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba certainties as the two wing-backs. In defence, Ronald Araujo could come in for Oscar Mingueza, who drew the ire of the Barcelona boss against Getafe, with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet being his partners at the back.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): ter Stegen; Araujo, Pique, Lenglet; Dest, de Jong, Busquets, Pedri, Alba; Messi, Griezmann

Key Stats

  • Villarreal have failed to win their last 23 meetings with Barcelona in La Liga (D6 L17), their worst run ever against a single opponent in the top-flight.
  • Barcelona have won ten games and scored 36 goals at Villarreal in La Liga, more than any other visitor at Estadio de la Ceramica in the competition.
  • Barcelona have scored four goals in each of their last two away games against Villarreal (W1 D1) and are the only team to have scored as many goals at this venue in back-to-back games.
  • Villarreal have lost three of their last four games at Estadio de la Ceramecia in La Liga (W1), after going unbeaten in their previous 11 outings this season (W5 D6).
  • Barcelona have won 43 out of the possible 48 points in La Liga in the ongoing calendar year (W14 D1 L1), more than any other team in this period.

Player to Watch

Antoine Griezmann

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Whenever Barcelona takes the field, the spotlight invariably ends up falling on Lionel Messi. But, with the Argentine getting much of the attention, what has gone under the radar is the fact that Antoine Griezmann, despite blowing hot and cold, has the third best tally of direct goal involvement in Europe’s top five leagues since the turn of the year.

His overall return of the season – 16 goals and 11 assists in 44 appearances – is quite impressive as well and it goes without saying that Griezmann has been improving a great deal in recent months. With Barcelona approaching their most crucial juncture of the season in La Liga, it will be up to the Frenchman to continue pushing forward in search of more goals and take the load off Messi. The game against Villarreal will be the biggest test yet.

Prediction

Villarreal 1-2 Barcelona

Villarreal, despite sitting seventh on the La Liga table, have proven that they are not a team to be taken lightly. The hosts should indeed make things difficult for Barcelona on Sunday while putting their defence to the sword. However, with Lionel Messi being in the form that he is in, there might be no stopping the visitors, who should edge this game by a 2-1 scoreline on Sunday.

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