For one last time in the season of 2021-22, Barcelona will step out to play a game of football on Sunday night. The Catalans have had a rocky season, with some absolute peaks like their El Clasico win to the lowest of lows like their group stage elimination in the UCL.
The final game at Camp Nou sees the Blaugranas take on Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine had a spectacular run in the Champions League this season, making it to the semifinals of the prestigious event. However, their domestic campaign has been far from impressive as they missed out on a European berth for next season.
Unai Emery’s side currently sit seventh in La Liga standings, six points behind sixth-placed Real Sociedad. The visitors do not have much to play for other than pride but defeating Barcelona would undoubtedly be a good way to end their season. Here are Barça Universal’s three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Villarreal.
1. The return of key players
Barcelona’s outing to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez was marred with a long list of absentees for Xavi Hernandez. The manager was already without the services of Pedri, Sergino Dest, Nico Gonzalez, Gerard Pique, and Ronald Araujo through injury.
Three more players were unavailable on the night, making Xavi’s job very difficult. Eric Garcia missed the game through a combination of suspension and injury, while Frenkie de Jong and Jordi Alba were ruled out due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Given the difficult situation around the squad, the manager was forced to start Alejandro Balde at left-back and also give Riqui Puig an opportunity in midfield. More importantly, the Catalans fielded Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza in central defence against Getafe, a combination that did not work out well.
Needless to say, it comes as a big boost to the Catalans that they will be able to count on many more players for the final league game. Frenkie de Jong and Jordi Alba will be available after serving their one-game ban. Meanwhile, Ronald Araujo is expected to be ready for the game too.
2. Central defence – the perennial worry
Despite having six centre-backs in the team competing for just two spots, Barcelona once again face an acute shortage of options in the department.
The side have lost their most experienced campaigner to a chronic injury while Umtiti continues to be out for the same reason. Eric Garcia will be unavailable to face Villarreal after undergoing thumb surgery, leaving the manager with only three options.
Ronald Araujo has been the Azulgranas’ best defender by far this season and will receive a starting spot on the night. However, he will play alongside Clement Lenglet with the only backup option being Mingueza.
Barcelona’s weak central-defensive pairing in the last game saw them concede nine shots on the night despite having 71% possession. The hosts took five shots from inside the box as compared to the Catalans’ two, with four of them coming in the second half.
Araujo’s return sparks some hope of a strong defensive performance at Camp Nou. However, there is still no assurance over the Uruguayan’s availability.
3. A fairytale end to a mixed season
The Catalan side’s season has been erratic to say the least. At times, Barcelona have looked like they have what it takes to beat the best in the business. However, they have had an equal number of lackluster performances in the season.
From falling out of the Champions League under Ronald Koeman to making a strong comeback in La Liga, the club have seen all in less than 300 days. There is now a feeling of trust and faith in Xavi’s project, especially given the consistency of results under the Barca legend.
Xavi’s men are now unbeaten in their last four games. It would only be fitting for the team to sign off from the season on a high after pulling off a second-place finish in the league.
Moreover, finishing the season on a positive note will unquestionably have a role to play in ensuring that the team get off to a flying start when club football resumes. Barcelona have the chance to get a big morale boost on Sunday, and Xavi will look for nothing less than three points on the night.