Barcelona will be aiming to return to winning ways when they travel to El Madrigal to face off against Villarreal on Matchday 15 of the 2021/22 La Liga.

Barcelona will be hoping to cut down the gap to the top four when they lock horns with Villarreal away at Estadio de la Ceramica in La Liga on Saturday night.

Barcelona ended their four-game winless run in the Spanish top-flight last week when they defeated local rivals Espanyol 1-0 in what was club legend Xavi Hernandez’s first game as the manager. The result saw the Catalans jump up to seventh place in the standings, with them now being ten points shy of leaders Real Madrid and six below Atletico Madrid in fourth – a gap they will be intent on reducing.

However, confidence might not be at the highest within the camp after they were held to a goalless draw by SL Benfica in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, which has put a dent in their hopes of making it through to the knockout stages. Nevertheless, Xavi & co. will need to focus on the task at hand and look to get all three points as they hope to get their season back on track.

Villarreal, meanwhile, find themselves outside the top ten in the La Liga standings after a mixed start to the campaign. Unai Emery’s side are currently twelfth in the table, with 16 points from 13 games, with a seven-point gap separating them from sixth-placed Rayo Vallecano. The Yellow Submarine were held to a 1-1 draw by Celta Vigo last weekend, meaning they have won just one of their last six league meetings.

On top of that, Villarreal lost 2-0 to Manchester United in the Champions League earlier this week. So, there is some pressure building up on Emery to turn things around quickly and make a push for the top-six. And, a positive result against Barcelona on Saturday night would go a long way in doing so.

Team News & Tactics

Villarreal

Villarreal have just one injury casualty leading up to the game as key man Gerard Moreno remains unavailable for selection. Apart from that, Unai Emery has a full-strength squad at his disposal as he plots Barcelona’s downfall at El Madrigal on Saturday night. 

Having set up in a 4-4-2 formation against Manchester United in midweek, Villarreal could opt to switch it up to a 4-3-3 against Barcelona to add an extra body in the middle of the park to mirror their visitors’ shape. Geronimo Rulli has established himself as the undisputed starter in goal ahead of Sergio Asenjo, who is linked with Real Madrid.

Raul Albiol and Pau Torres are pretty much certain to feature at the heart of the defence for the Yellow Submarine, while Juan Foyth should be nailed on for the right-back berth. However, there could be a change on the opposite flank, with Alfonso Pedraza coming in for Pervis Estupinan. The Spaniard will have the freedom to push forward and provide attacking support at every given instance.

The hard-working Etienne Capoue is expected to keep hold of his place in the middle of the park, along with Dani Parejo, who will have the onus of supporting the attacks. Francis Coquelin could be brought back into the lineup against Barcelona to add more security in front of the defence and keep an eye on the opponents’ midfield runners like Frenkie de Jong and Gavi.

Up top, Paco Alcacer should get the nod in the No. 9 slot after not starting in the midweek clash. He will be flanked by the dangerous duo of Yeremi Pino and Arnaut Danjuma. The former, in particular, could do serious damage if he can capitalise on the space that Jordi Alba tends to leave behind on his flank.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Parejo, Coquelin, Capoue; Pino, Alcacer, Danjuma

Barcelona

Barcelona continue to make do without key forward Ansu Fati as he recuperates from a hamstring injury, while fellow youngster Pedri also remains unavailable, with the midfielder facing yet another setback on his road to recovery. Sergi Roberto and Martin Braithwaite are also injury-enforced absentees, while Sergio Aguero remains indefinitely sidelined due to his heart condition. Dani Alves is ineligible to play.

Xavi could make a few changes to the side that started in midweek, beginning with reverting to a 4-3-3 formation after fielding a three-person backline against Benfica.

There is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks for Barcelona. The returning Sergino Dest should pip Oscar Mingueza to the right-back slot while Jordi Alba continues on the left. Gerard Pique is a permanent fixture at the heart of the Barcelona defence and is likely to be partnered with Ronald Araujo, who has seemingly recovered from a knock he picked up in the midweek clash. 

Captain Sergio Busquets is another guaranteed starter for Barcelona at the base of the midfield, where he will act as the link between the two halves of the pitch. Frenkie de Jong, who has been rather inconsistent this term, will be hoping to get his campaign up and running and make a solid impression on the new manager amid all the speculations surrounding his future. Nico Gonzalez should occupy the third spot in the middle.

With Ousmane Dembele making his return in midweek, he will be in contention to start against Villarreal. However, given his injury record, he might be held back for an appearance from the bench, which could pave the way for Abde Ezzalzouli to get the nod on the right, although fellow youngsters Ilias Akhomach and Yusuf Demir are also options. Memphis Depay and Gavi should complete Barcelona’s frontline.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Dest, Pique, Araujo, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Nico; Abde, Depay, Gavi

Key Stats

  • Barcelona are on an incredible 26-game unbeaten run against Villarreal across all competitions.
  • Villarreal have won three of their last five home La Liga matches, as many as they had in their previous 11 in the competition.
  • Barcelona have failed to register a victory in their previous five La Liga outings away from home.
  • Villarreal have conceded the joint third-fewest number of goals in La Liga this season (13), while they also have the third-highest number of clean sheets (6).
  • Memphis Depay is Barcelona’s leading goalscorer in La Liga this term, with seven strikes to his name. His compatriot Arnaut Danjuma tops the goalscoring charts for Villarreal with five.

Player to Watch

Frenkie de Jong

It hasn’t been the easiest of starts to the season for Frenkie de Jong, who has had to deal with the exit of Ronald Koeman, who placed immense faith in him, while injuries and a lack of form have also raised questions over his standing within this Barcelona side. Indeed, there have been reports that the Catalans could very well consider selling the Dutchman in case a suitable offer came along.

So, the 24-year-old will need to step up and prove that he belongs in this team and establish himself as a regular in new boss Xavi Hernandez’s plans. Barcelona will not find it easy to create goalscoring opportunities when they come up against Villarreal, who are known for their defensive discipline.

But, de Jong, with his vision and range of distribution, has what it takes to unlock the stubborn hosts’ backline. At the same time, his ghosting forward runs into the box could also come in very handy at Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday. A crucial clash beckons the Netherlands international.

Prediction

Villarreal 1-1 Barcelona

As iterated earlier, Villarreal are notorious for being able to shut out oppositions – they are fourth-best in the division for ‘Shots Against’ parameter, having allowed their opponents to have a go at the goal just 39 occasions in 13 games. And while Barcelona’s chance-creation has seemingly improved in the two games that Xavi has presided over, they continue to lack a natural goalscorer at the top, which will make things difficult.

With the Catalans themselves not being entirely secure at the back, their hosts could find opportunities to trouble Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks. Furthermore, Villarreal have shown a knack for storing their best for games against the biggest oppositions, which is why The Hard Tackle is predicting a scored draw at El Madrigal on Saturday night.

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