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Match Previews

A preview of Barça’s first game of the season against Villarreal

Hariharan Balaji

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

With already two matchdays completed in La Liga, Barça kick off their campaign on the third against the Yellow Submarine. The Catalans begin their title charge under new manager, Ronald Koeman, at the Camp Nou. Here’s the preview of the match between Barcelona and Villarreal. 


Date and kick-off time: Sunday 27 September 2020, 21:00 CET

Stadium: Camp Nou

Competition: La Liga, matchday 3

Referee: Guillermo Cuadra Fernández


Overview

A new season with a new manager and a partially renewed squad, Barcelona once again try to gloss over the cracks of the previous disappointing season for the third time in a row. In a bid to reduce the overarching wage bill, Barcelona have let go of some of their top-earning veterans for peanuts. Ivan Rakitić, Arturo Vidal, and Luis Suárez have left the club almost for free with significant earnings on the sale of Nelson Semedo. 

Apart from the already agreed transfers and players returning from loan, Barça are yet to complete a signing this window. They are unlikely to do so before the start of the game for the player to be eligible to play. While the numbers in attack and midfield are overwhelming, albeit the absence of different profiles, the defence remains understaffed and underwhelming. 

In contrast to Barcelona, their visitors have built upon their successful season by backing their new manager with excellent signings. Villarreal have dealt with the departures of several key players and have replaced them economically and efficiently. 

With an unusually short pre-season, both the new managers have had little time to implement their ideas and stamp their authority on the team. Will be an intriguing matchup considering that the match is at Camp Nou but without the fans. 

What to expect from Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman has made it clear with the three pre-season games that 4-2-3-1 is the way forward under his stewardship. The Dutchman has been straightforward with the players about his plans. He has also stated that he intends to field the players in their best positions as much as possible. So, both Frenkie de Jong and Antonie Griezmann will likely get their favoured spots.

The shift to the new formation has its pros and cons. The Mediapunta role benefits some of the central players of the squad to have more authority in the attack. But, with one less man in midfield and the double-pivot being flat ends in the defence reeling if the opponents break the first press to counter. Koeman must find a solution to this before stronger sides in La Liga exploit Barça in this regard. 

The Catalans are without the services of Marc-André ter Stegen who is out till October with Neto filling in between the sticks. Martin Braithwaite is also out with a minor injury. The defence has further weakened with no proper right back in the squad ending in Sergi Roberto once again filling in. Samuel Umtiti situation is still unclear with the club keen to offload the injury-prone Frenchman. 

What to expect from Villarreal?

Unai Emery’s Villarreal have already played two games this season drawing one and winning another. Despite a successful last season, Javier Calleja was relieved of his duties, which was quite vague. But, they have appointed a more experienced and a proven winner in Emery and backed him with the players. On paper, they look like a team to keep an eye on this season in La Liga. 

Emery has changed the system to a 4-4-2 with new signings Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin slotting in the midfield. Chukwueze and Moi Gomez flank the two with the impressive Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer upfront. New signing Pervis Estupiñán might fill in at left-back after earning the move with an excellent debut season in La Liga. 

Last season’s Zarra trophy winner Moreno has hit the ground running with two goals in two games. Dani Parejo is trying to adjust to new surroundings in Villarreal after almost spending his entire senior career at Valencia. The experienced Raul Albiol is a doubt for the clash with a broken nose. Still unbeaten under Emery, the Yellow Submarine would love to extend the run and make a dent to the host’s start to the campaign. 


Form

FC Barcelona

Previous games: WWW

Barcelona 1–0 Elche | Joan Gamper Trophy
Barcelona 3–1 Girona | Club Friendly
Barcelona 3–1 Gimnastic| Club Friendly

Position in La Liga

16th 
0 points in 0 games
0 wins, 0 draws and 0 losses
0 Goals Scored, 0 Goals Conceded
0 Goal Difference

Villarreal CF

Previous games: WDLWL

Villarreal 2–1 Eibar | La Liga
Villarreal 1–1 Huesca | La Liga
Villarreal 1–2 Levante | Club Friendly
Real Sociedad 0–2 Villarreal | Club Friendly
Valencia 2–1 Villarreal | Club Friendly

Position in La Liga

5th
4 points in 2 games
2 wins, 1 draw and 0 losses
3 Goals Scored, 2 Goals Conceded
+1 Goal Difference

Head-to-head record

Last 5 meetings

Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona | La Liga, 19/20
Barcelona 2–1 Villarreal | La Liga, 19/20
Villarreal 4–4 Barcelona | La Liga, 18/19
Barcelona 2–0 Villarreal | La Liga, 18/19
Barcelona 5–1 Villarreal | La Liga, 17/18


Match facts

• Barcelona have won their last 10 home matches against Villarreal in all competitions.

• There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 6 of Villarreal’s last 7 games (LaLiga).

• Barcelona are undefeated in 11 of their last 12 matches (LaLiga).

• Barcelona have scored at least 2 goals in their last 10 home matches against Villarreal in all competitions. 


Team news and possible line-ups

FC Barcelona

Absences

Injured: Samuel Umtiti (knee), Marc-André ter Stegen (Tendon), Braithwaite
Suspended: None

Possible line-up

4–2–3–1
Neto
Roberto · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Frenkie de Jong · Busquets
Messi · Coutinho · Fati
Griezmann
Coach: Ronald Koeman

Villarreal CF

Absences

Injured: Alberto Moreno, Ramiro Guerra, Rubén Peña, Raúl Albiol
Suspended: None

Possible line-up

4–4–2
Asenjo
Gaspar · Ramiro Funes Mori · Pau Torres · Pervis Estupiñán
Chukwueze · Coquelin · Parejo · Moi Gomes
Gerard Moreno · Paco Alcacer
Coach: Unai Emery


Predictions

Barcelona’s and Ronald Koeman’s first official game of the season is far from easy. Villarreal are a top side in the Spanish top flight, and a positive result in this game could set them in the right path. While the defence still seems precarious, the attack has improved and might be enough to get them over the line in this game. The writer’s prediction: 3-1 win for the Catalans. 

I got into watching football for the emotions of it. A goal followed by a crazy celebration from the player gave me goosebumps. But, watching the beautiful game over the years, I realised it was much more than just goals. The passing, the movements, the positioning and the effort involved behind the scenes opened my eyes to what football was. I keep trying to learn more about this incredible game and pass on what I learnt with a tinge of passion attached to it.

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Match Previews

How should Barcelona Line-up against Real Madrid?

Adithya Eshwarla

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Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

El Clasico: A term that sends shivers down the root of every football lover’s spine; an emotion that only football fans can relate to. The rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid has come a long way from its initial days. Through the decades, it has evolved to be known as the pinnacle of football. Undoubtedly, it is the one game in the world that every sports lover tunes in to relish, irrespective of their loyalties.

No doubt the Clasico peaked when it featured two of the greatest in the form of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, Culeés know the significance of the game beyond the individual scale. Violent splashes of paint often produce the best paintings. It is that masterpiece from which the spirit of the game ebbs out. Social, political, sporting, philosophical: endless are the reasons that make it the most relished rivalry in the sporting world.

And on Saturday, the world finally gets to witness the most awaited game of La Liga Santander. The defending champions Real Madrid travel to the Camp Nou to take on the mighty Catalans.

A forgettable season last time around saw the Blaugranas fail to register a win in either of the Clasicos. Nevertheless, do not dismiss that as any gauge of strength. If anything, it makes the fire more thirsty to suck in oil.

What to expect from Real Madrid?

The Clasico could not come at a worse time for Zinedine Zidane’s men. The last matchday of the league saw the defending champions bow down too newly promoted Cadiz in a 1-0 loss.

Rubbing salt in the wound was Los Blancos’ opening champions league fixture. On Wednesday, Real Madrid took on a Shakhtar Donetsk side that was missing 13 first team players through COVID-19. In a shocking turn of events, they found themselves 3-0 down at the half time and went on to lose the match 3-2.

Madrid are boosted by the return of captain Sergio Ramos. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Zidane has continuously played around with the formation based on the rotations. Unlike teams that decide players based on the system, the Frenchman has continued to tweak the approach to the players chosen. He started the season with a 4-2-3-1 against Real Sociedad, with Vinicius and Rodrygo to open up the left and right wings respectively. Though the wings were potent in attack, the team desperately missed the finishing touch. This prompted the Frenchman to introduce another target man, and he switched the system over to a 4-3-1-2 for the next two games.

Yet, on both occasions, Los Blancos were fortunate to get away with the win. Real Valladolid, in particular, terrorised Real Madrid’s right-wing, forcing Odriozola into multiple errors. The last few games have seen them revert to a 4-3-3, with Modric and Federico Valverde playing on an exceptionally high line.

For the Clasico, one could expect the Madrid based side to turn back to the 4-3-1-2. An overload in the midfield will trouble Barcelona’s double pivot and hinder their connection to the mediapunta. In the attack, Casemiro has dropped back to form a 3-man-defence, enabling the fullbacks to let loose. This trend will surely continue on Saturday. Furthermore, Federico Valverde and Luka Modric could start in midfield with the Brazilian, the former being in a more advanced role on the right side.

Real Madrid is still coming to terms with the absence of Dani Carvajal, and this has prompted Zidane to play Ferland Mendy out of position to cover up the gaping hole. Meanwhile, they seem to be hit with a new setback after Sergio Ramos appears to be doubtful for the Clasico. One would expect Marcelo to start against Barcelona on Saturday. However, it remains to be seen who starts at right-back. Undoubtedly, that will have to be the target to catch Los Blancos off guard for Koeman’s men.

How should Barcelona line-up?

The Catalans left-wing is undoubtedly their best chance to exploit their rivals’ weaknesses. There is hardly a speck of doubt that the 17-year-old Ansu Fati will get his first Clasico start on Saturday. The youngster’s terrifying pace and dribbling will be invaluable against a weakened right-back position. In the central attack, Lionel Messi will undoubtedly retain his place against his favourite opponents.

Will Koeman go down the path of youth over experience? (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The right-wing is where it gets interesting, where Koeman has a plethora of options. The first name that comes to mind is that of Antoine Griezmann who didn’t play a single minute against Ferencvaros. That his confidence is dented is a well-known fact. Undoubtedly, the only way back to form is performing in the opportunities provided. Nevertheless, given the weight of the clash, playing a successfully tested option is a much better approach. It would be in the best interest of the club for the Frenchman to start on the bench. Ousmane Dembele showed his brilliance against the Hungarians and claimed stake over the starting role for the Clasico. However, his lack of match fitness is the one big card against him.

Bearing everything in mind, Fransisco Trincao may be the best option for the night. Against Ferencvaros, the young Portuguese winger injected life into the right flank, helping the team create equally on both sides. His presence will be crucial, with the use of Dembele as a super-sub.

In the Mediapunta role, we could well see Phillipe Coutinho start again as he looks to extend his great run of form. Going up head to head against his International teammate Casemiro will be a huge test for the Brazilian.

He will be supported in midfield by a double pivot that would most likely consist Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets. Though Miralem Pjanic had a promising game against Ferencvaros, everything indicates that Busquets was rested keeping the tight schedule in mind. With the Bosnian still not entirely fit, chances he starts are feeble.

In a massive boost for the team, Jordi Alba has been given the medical all-clear ahead of the Clasico. One would expect the Spaniard to resume duties on the left side, with a rather crucial role to play. On the other side, Sergi Roberto is predicted to start the game purely on the merit of experience. He has often shone against Los Merengues, and that could just provide the confidence boost he needs. Don’t count out of Sergino Dest, however, as he could be an invaluable substitute for the high profile clash.

Rushing Alba onto the pitch for the El Clasico may be a necessary step that Barcelona will have to take. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In central defence, Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique will get the nod to start. Though Los Blancos have struggled in front of goal so far, the duo will have to be extremely cautious. With Marc-Andre ter Stegen still not back from injury, Neto will don the gloves on the big night.

As we have learnt from past years, form heading into the clash is no indicator of what is to come. Barcelona will have to work hard to churn out a favourable result. Nothing can be predicted; here are no favourites.

Line-up:

Neto
Roberto · Pique · Lenglet · Alba
Busquets · de Jong
Trincão · Coutinho · Fati
Messi

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