Our football scribe previews the eye-catching La Liga clash between Villarreal and Barcelona.
The Spanish La Liga returns this weekend with a mouth-watering matchup between Villarreal and Barcelona at the Estadio El Madrigal. Luis Enrique knows that this game will not be easy for his Barca side after being held here last season by a 2-2 scoreline.
The Yellow Submarine have been superb at their ground, winning six of their eight matches played. Barca will look to catch up on log-leaders, Real Madrid, while Villarreal will look to solidify their fourth spot. Statistically, this is a tie between the league’s best defence up against the division's best attack. Who will emerge victorious?
Spanish La Liga | Sunday 8 January | El Madrigal | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Villarreal 5/1 | Draw 34/10 | Barcelona 5/10
Villarreal have been fairly decent this campaign. They currently sit fourth in the league and eight points behind the leaders, Real Madrid. Not to mention, the Yellow Submarine have been deadly at the El Madrigal. Fran Escriba’s side have suffered just one defeat this season – an unexpected loss to Alaves, going down 2-0.
Villarreal have already beaten Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid by huge margins at home this season, humbling their opponents to 5-0 and 3-0 scorelines respectively. Their star player has undoubtedly been top-scorer, Nicola Sansone.
The Italian forward has been formidable since his €13 million move from Sassuolo. The pacey attacker is yet to be given a real chance for his national team, but a few more top performances and it will be hard for Italy coach, Gian Piero Ventura, not to notice him.
Despite the goals flowing in for Villarreal, they have also conceded the least amount of goals. A feat not many would expect to happen after selling their best defender, Eric Bailly, to Manchester United in the beginning of the season.
Cedric Bakambu will not join up with the squad for this weekend’s clash after being named in the DR Congo squad for the 2017 AFCON. The African centre-forward will be missed for Villarreal, with his bursting runs and strength on the ball.
Alexandre Pato could come in for Bakambu, with the Brazilian attacker being a like-for-like replacement. Along with Roberto Soriano, Villarreal have plenty of players that could hurt Barcelona.
Barcelona will face the Yellow Submarine in what could be one of their trickiest fixtures in the campaign. Luis Enrique’s side have won seven away games this season, though, more than any other team in the division.
Enrique welcomed back Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to training on Monday and will have the MSN trio at his disposal once again. Messi and Suarez are La Liga’s top scorers, both with 12 goals to their name.
Unlike their opponents, none of Barca’s players will be leaving for international duty, with the Catalans having not one African player in their ranks. Barcelona are on a run of 11 games undefeated across all competitions, winning their last five, at the time of writing.
Barcelona find themselves three points behind Real Madrid, playing a game extra than their El Clasico rivals. Villarreal will need to be careful when Barca come to town. No team has scored more away goals (23) than Enrique’s side.
Denis Suarez will come up against his former side, where he excelled in the colours of yellow last season. Denis has been a key figure in Barca’s midfield, making more appearances than any other player in the middle of the park.
Barcelona boast an excellent head-to-head record against Villarreal, going 14 matches without tasting defeat against the Yellow Submarine. With this being the fiercest Barca attack in history, the Catalans will definitely be looking to stretch their impressive run to 15 games without tasting defeat against their La Liga rivals.
Verdict: Barcelona (5/10)
Given the fact that Barcelona hold an incredible record over Villarreal, I can only see one winner. The hosts have been superb at their ground, however, a test against the world’s deadliest attack has come too soon for Escriba’s men.
And while I don’t think it will be so straightforward for Barca, they should come out on top. You rarely get the opportunity to back Barcelona at a decent price of 5/10. That said, back the away win.
Written by Jesse Nagel @Hollywoodbets