Five games remain as Barça chase Real Madrid, who are four points ahead. With everything on the line, the game is almost a do-or-die contest for the Catalans. Here’s the preview of yet another must-win match for Barcelona as they face Villarreal.
Date and kick-off time: Sunday 5 July 2020, 22:00 CET
Stadium: Estadio de la Cerámica, Villarreal
Competition: La Liga, matchday 34
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande
The reigning champions chase their eternal rivals, with four points separating the two. Barça’s draw with Atlético de Madrid at the Camp Nou put them in a disadvantageous position, and Real Madrid grabbed the opportunity to go clear. Los Blancos won a hard-fought contest with Getafe and stretched their lead at the top to four points, making it tricky for the Catalan outfit to retain the title. With only five games remaining, and Madrid grinding results every game, Barcelona have to win the rest, and can only hope Zinedine Zidane’s men drop points.
“They [Villarreal] are doing things very well, with a lot of talent and players in good form, who defend well and who are going to compromise us a lot because they are playing at home. But we played a pretty good game against Atlético de Madrid and I hope we are at that level and get through the game”
in the pre-match press conference
In the 34th matchday of La Liga, Barcelona travel to the La Cerámica, the home of an in-form Villarreal. The hosts are unbeaten since the restart just like the visitors but have drawn only one game. They are in excellent touch, with only Madrid having a better points tally since the break. With the points-dropping form the culés are in, they might be in for a tricky test away from home.
The games between the two sides never seem to disappoint the general audience. Barça came out with a win in the reverse fixture, as Antoine Grizemann and Arthur Melo scored early with a Cazorla special for the then visitors. Villarreal are on the cusp of Champions League qualification with only three points separating them from Sevilla in fourth. A positive result – a win – could help both the teams immensely in their respective objectives.
What to expect from Villarreal?
Villarreal were on a three-match losing streak going into the break but returned with possibly their form of the season. With nine goals for and two goals against since the restart, the Yellow Submarine is back to its prime. They have turned up immensely after the break, with results displaying the mettle of their quality oozing squad. Manager Javier Calleja, in his second stint, has found the right team balance and structure to deal with different kinds of opponents.
Santi Cazorla creates, Gerard Moreno finishes | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
Villarreal often deploy two strikers at the top with one feeding off the other. Two of the most crucial personnel in their attack are Gerard Moreno and Santi Cazorla. While the former is often known to trouble Gerrard Piqué and get into arguments, especially during Moreno’s time at Espanyol, he has spoken with his foot this time around. With 15 goals and four assists in La Liga, he has been one of the best players for the hosts with the season being one of his career bests. Either Carlos Bacca or Paco Alcácer tend to accompany the Spaniard upfront.
Javier Calleja is likely to set his team up in a 4–4–2, with Alcácer and Gerard Moreno up top. He could choose Samuel Chukwueze to hit Barça on the break, as he has done before. With Vicente Iborra and Zambo Anguissa in midfield alongside Santi Cazorla, the rest of the team picks itself baring any possible rotations from the manager. Ramiro Funes Mori remains out with Sofian Chakla doubtful for the clash. An in-form Submarino Amarillo with the ever-magical Santi Cazorla awaits the Catalans.
What to expect from Barcelona?
With two consecutive 2–2 draws coming into this fixture, Barcelona have made their fans second guess their match predictions. While the results have not shown anything progressive, a significant change in tactics is visible. More specifically, on how the team conducts and structures itself while in possession. With Barça struggling to break down low blocks, coach Quique Setién seems to have found a way to compensate for the lack of personnel in some areas.
Other than the young Ansu Fati, the Catalans don’t have a genuine winger in the team. So the manager has decided to push the full-backs high up the pitch to maintain width while one midfielder joins the defensive line to cover for the space left vacant by them. The tactic has resulted in Barça dominating space and getting the numerical superiority up the pitch. The fans can expect a similar approach in this game with better-suited players available. Sergi Roberto did not start the last game, but came on to create a solid impression and can start at right-back this time around.
“Griezmann is a great player and very important for the club and the team. Not everyone can play and I have to decide on my front line and who I think contributes to the team. I take into account the importance and the hierarchy of each player, but in a club like Barça with so many players… I know that some are going to get angry because not all are fit and it is a decision that I must take responsibility for, and that is what I do”
Frenkie de Jong remains on the sidelines after his calf injury, and Samuel Umtiti has succumbed to yet another knee injury. Seven players, namely Lionel Messi, Iván Rakitić, Arturo Vidal, Luis Suárez, Martin Braithwaite, Clément Lenglet and Junior Firpo, are on the risk of suspension with four yellows. Antoine Griezmann, who just played two minutes vs his previous club, could feature here to boost his morale. With better utilisation of space and finishing off the chances created, Barcelona can hopefully get back to winning ways.
Last 5 games: WWDWW
Real Betis 0–2 Villarreal | La Liga
Villarreal 2–0 Valencia | La Liga
Villarreal 2–2 Sevilla | La Liga
Granada 0–1 Villarreal | La Liga
Villarreal 1–0 Mallorca | La Liga
Position in La Liga
54 points in 33 games
16 wins, 6 draws and 11 losses
53 Goals Scored, 40 Goals Conceded
+13 Goal Difference
“My worry is that we think that everything is done already. There’s still a lot to play for. We cannot fall into euphoria”
Villarreal manager on his team being only three points away from the Champions League spots
Last 5 games: DDWDW
Barcelona 2–2 Atlético de Madrid | La Liga
Celta de Vigo 2–2 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 1–0 Athletic Club de Bilbao | La Liga
Sevilla 0–0 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 2–0 Leganés | La Liga
Position in La Liga
70 points in 33 games
21 wins, 7 draws and 5 losses
74 Goals Scored, 35 Goals Conceded
+39 Goal Difference
Last 5 meetings
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
Villarreal 0–2 Barcelona | La Liga, 17/18
• Barcelona have scored at least two goals in their last six matches against Villarreal in all competitions
• Villarreal have won five and lost none of their last six matches in La Liga
• Barcelona are undefeated in their last 23 matches against Villarreal in all competitions
• Barça are undefeated in their last seven La Liga matches
Team news and possible line-ups
Injured: Ramiro Guerra, Ramiro Funes Mori
Doubtful: Sofian Chakla
Mario Gaspar · Albiol · Pau Torres · Alberto Moreno
Chukwueze · Iborra · Anguissa · Santi Cazorla
Gerard Moreno · Alcácer
Coach: Javier Calleja
“We’re going into the match full of motivation, we’re excited and convinced that we can get three points against one of the best teams in the world. We’ve done something very difficult and we have to continue like that. If we give 100%, are focused and have a winning mentality, we have a chance of coming away with a victory”
Injured: Ousmane Dembélé (hamstring), Frenkie de Jong (calf), Samuel Umtiti (knee)
Sergi Roberto · Piqué · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Rakitić · Busquets · Riqui Puig
Messi · Suárez · Griezmann
Coach: Quique Setién
For the first time since the restart, Barcelona play after the leaders, Real Madrid. With the form Los Blancos are in, Barça might have to prepare to chase a seven-point lead when their game starts. With this added pressure, it is a necessity to win this game, not only to stay in the race but to show for some improvement in the general gameplay. The writer’s prediction: 1–2 win for the Catalans.