After the thrilling Copa del Rey game on Wednesday night we are back to La Liga tomorrow night when we face Villarreal at El Madrigal (kick off 10pm local time). The fall out from the latest clasico is the injuries to Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sancez. Iniesta has a hamstyring injury and will miss three weeks while Alexis is in a race against time to try and get fit for next Wednesday’s Copa del Rey first leg against Valencia at Mestalla. Meanwhile, the complaints from Madrid keep coming about how they were supposedly robbed by the referee. The ref was poor, yes, but Madrid really are bad losers and would do well to look up the phrase “selective memory”.
With Iniesta and Alexis missing we are down to just twelve outfield players from the first team which means we will see Isaac Cuenca, Sergi Roberto, Johnathan dos Santos and Cristian Tello again travelling with the first team. The club announced this morning that Cuenca will sign a new contract next week until June 2015 which will see him promoted to the first team. Given Cuenca’s excellent performances when called on I believe this is no more than he deserves.
Villarreal are having their worst season in quite a long time. Losing players like Santi Cazorla and Joan Capdevila last summer won’t have helped but the biggest blow for our opponents has been losing star player Guiseppe Rossi for the season. In December coach Juan Carlos Garrido was sacked to be replaced by ex-Atletico and Deportivo goalkeeper José Molina. In Molina’s first game in charge they came close to beating Valencia, then they lost at Atletico, then last Monday they earned the first victory since November with a 3-0 win over Sporting which will put them in a more positive state of mind to face us.
Back in August we began the league campaign with a magnificent 5-0 win over Villarreal. Dani Alves was suspended for that game while Piqué and Puyol were both injured which led Pep Guardiola to play a defence of three (Mascherano, Busquets, Abidal) for the first time in a 3-4-3 formation. Tomorrow we should see a defence of four though with Alves the formation becomes so much more flexible. We have a good recent record at El Madrigal and with Pep as coach we have three league wins out of three. However, Villarreal are a much better team, at home than away and despite their problems this season they have only lost one game in the Liga at home (0-3 to Levante) in nine starts. In fact Villarreal’s home record is almost identical to Barça’s away record, reading four wins, four draws and one defeat the only difference is Barça have scored 16 on the road while Villarreal have scored 15 at home.
Barça will be encouraged by the 1-4 win at Malaga but we all know we cannot afford to lose more points. Villarreal may sit just above the relegation zone but this is a tougher fixture than in may appear at first glance. We will need to be at 100% to win and there will be no time for some of the concentration losses we saw in the game on Wednesday. As long as we stay focused and the referee isn’t one of Florentino’s friends, I think we should be capable of taking the three points.
Probable squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Pedro, Messi, Fabregas, Sergi Roberto, Cuenca, Dos Santos, Tello
Possible team: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Thiago; Messi, Cesc, Pedro.
My prediction: Villarreal 1 Barça 2