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Match Preview: FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF

FC Barcelona host Villarreal in an enthralling fixture that could help Barcelona keep their second place in the table behind Real Madrid intact.

Messi will be a difficult challenge for the Villarreal defence.
Messi will be a challenge for the Villarreal defence.

FC Barcelona host Villarreal in an enthralling fixture that could help Barcelona keep their second place in the table behind Real Madrid intact. Barcelona will be on a high after thumping Elche 6-0 at home in their previous La Liga game while Villarreal also beat Levante 1-0 in their previous match.

Barcelona now come up against opposition in a rich vein of form as Villarreal have not lost any of their previous 18 matches in all competitions – with their last defeat coming at FC Zurich in a November Europa League encounter. Barcelona will be looking to end this victory streak. The reverse fixture ended 1-0 to Barcelona, with Sandro Ramirez scoring the goal. Villarreal will be missing the services of Cani, who moved to Atletico Madrid this transfer window.

Venue

The match is to be played at the Nou Camp, the home ground of Barcelona, which is the largest stadium in Europe.

Kick-off time

The match is scheduled to kick off at 1.30 am IST.

Match Officials

Referee: Vicandi Garrido Assistants: Andoni Huerga, Aitor Villate Fourth Official: Francisco Villena

Probable Line Ups

Barcelona (4-3-3) : Bravo, Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.

Barcelona fought hard and finally managed to beat Atletico Madrid 3-2 in the Copa del Rey, and played the first half virtually without a midfield. Expect Enrique to play Busquets over Xavi, and also play Mathieu instead of Javier Mascherano. The front three should be the same, with the South Americans leading the attack. Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t yet recovered from injury. The creativity department should be handled by Iniesta, Rakitic, and Messi.

Villarreal (4-2-3-1): Asenjo, Mario, Gabriel, Ruiz, Costa, Bruno, Trigueros, Dos Santos, Cheryshev, Vietto, Uche.

No doubt, without Cani, the creative hope of Villarreal lies on Trigueros and Cheryshev. These two have to play some good football and have to steal the ball quickly to set the counter against the run of play. Vietto has been in decent form in front of goal, and he, Uche and Dos Santos are the main goalscoring threats. Cheryshev has 8 assists so far.

Key Battles:

Vietto v Pique

Gerard Pique, who recently made his 200th appearance in the La Liga, will have a tough time in containing Vietto, who was the La Liga Player Of The Month in December. The Argentine is enjoying a relatively good spell at Villarreal, with 9 goals in 19 appearances. He has been a goalscoring threat for almost every team Villarreal has played against this season. Pique will have to use his strength and ability to contain Vietto, and also think twice before going too forward. The Spaniard has to put in a solid performance and will have to form a good partnership with Jeremy Mathieu and act as a cover for Alves and Alba, who love getting forward.

Neymar Jr. v Mario

Neymar has been in sublime form this season, scoring 14 goals in his 17 appearances in the La Liga. He had a tough first half against Elche, as Elche’s right back Suarez constantly challenged him. Mario might look up to Suarez and learn a thing or two from him, but he must be careful not to go out of position. Neymar has been sensational on the right flank, causing a lot of problems for defenders. Mario will have to be wary of Neymar and be at the top of his game to contain the pacey Brazilian.

Messi v Ruiz

Lionel Messi has been in great form recently, be it setting up goals or popping them in by himself. The Argentine has scored an impressive 21 goals in 20 appearances, and leads the assists with 10. Ruiz will face a very tough challenge and will have to put all his efforts to contain the little magician. Ruiz will have to be rock solid or else he will have a tough time coping up with Messi’s agility and pace. Messi will be looking to capitalise on the fact that Ronaldo didn’t play Real Madrid’s last game against Sociedad and will look to catch up with Ronaldo in the goals tally.

Prediction:

We expect a good win for Luis Enrique’s team, with them continuing their run of impressive performances at the Nou Camp.

FT: FC Barcelona 3-1 Villarreal CF

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