We preview the La Liga clash between Villarreal and Barcelona, including our pre-match prediction for this huge top-flight clash on Sunday night in Spain at Estadio de la Cerámica.
Villarreal vs Barcelona: Quick Hits
- Barcelona have a 90.2% chance of winning LaLiga for the first time since Lionel Messi left the club.
- Villarreal have won once in 27 games against Barcelona.
- Barcelona have more clean sheets this season than any other team in the big five European leagues.
Barcelona have not lost a game since a tumultuous October stretch which saw them eliminated from the UEFA Champions League and lose 3-1 to Real Madrid in LaLiga. The losses to Inter Milan and Bayern Munich saw their hopes of a run in the Champions League knockout stage scuppered but they have recovered well from that loss against Clasico rivals Real. Barcelona lead LaLiga with their rivals in Spain’s capital faltering – a loss to Mallorca the most recent dent in Real Madrid’s title chances. If Barcelona can hold on, it will be their first LaLiga title in the post-Lionel Messi era at the club.
Villarreal are feeling a little vulnerable at the moment under Quique Setien’s watch. Their ability to mix the sublime with the sub-standard unmatched. They can test the pulse of the best teams in the world and then collapse like an unsupervised soufflé against the most ordinary of opponents. This is the Setien experience. Barcelona know all too well of their former manager’s idealistic streak and the kind of football he likes to play. They know all too well about his teams’ soft underbelly too.
These two teams don’t hold as rich a history as others in LaLiga given Villarreal’s relatively recent rise into the top flight. They have played each other 45 times in LaLiga, the first one coming in December 1998. Villarreal have won nine times, drawn nine times and lost 27 of those meetings. Eight of their victories came in the decade between 1998 and 2008 but their record against Barça has been abysmal since then. After three consecutive wins against Barcelona in LaLiga between 2007 and 2008, Villarreal have won only one of their last 27 matches against the Blaugrana side in the top-flight (D6 L20). A 2-0 in May 2022 when the league places were all but decided.
Villarreal looked to have turned a corner under Setien but after a string of bad results, we’re not so sure. The former Betis and Barcelona manager started his reign at the Estadio de la Cerámica with a draw and three losses before winning six and drawing one of the next seven games. Losses to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey and both Rayo Vallecano and Elche in LaLiga more recently have put pressure back on the manager. Villarreal have lost their last two matches in LaLiga, last losing three on the bounce in March 2020 under Javier Calleja.
Setien has lost six of his seven matches against Barcelona in LaLiga (winning the other) and his teams have conceded 3.6 goals per game during this run – he has lost more games in LaLiga as a manager against Barcelona than against any other opponent. If Villarreal are poor against Barcelona, Villarreal with Setien in charge will have Xavi and Barcelona fans licking their lips.
The big news on the injury front is that Sergio Busquets has ankle ligament damage, which he suffered early on against Sevilla, and could miss three weeks including an impending encounter with Manchester United in the Europa League. Xavi has Frenkie de Jong as a natural replacement but what that means for the rest of the team remains a mystery. The Villarreal game at the weekend will be our first look at what the Barcelona manager has planned in the veteran’s absence.
Barcelona 3-0 Villarreal: 20 October 2022 (Spanish LaLiga)
The last time these two teams met, Barcelona came out on top in a 3-0 victory at the Camp Nou. The ending might always be the same between these two sides but how we tend to get there changes depending on the manager. It seems whatever approach Villarreal take against the Blaugranas, Barcelona have an answer.
Unai Emery swapped Villarreal for Aston Villa soon after that last meeting between the sides and his replacement couldn’t have been much different. Emery, a cautious coach, is the polar opposite of Setien, who wants his teams to dominate even if it comes at the expense of defensive solidity. Some see Setien as a visionary, others a naif.
Villarreal’s last loss to Barcelona was Emery’s second last game in charge. The game was over by half-time with goals from Robert Lewandowski (two) and Ansu Fati. They dominated all over the field from expected goals, shots on target to possession. A walk in the park for Xavi’s side.
Barcelona took a massive stride towards the league title with wins over Real Betis and Sevilla last week. They have now won their last seven games in all competitions, keeping a clean sheet in five of them – they last won eight or more on the bounce back in October 2017 (nine). Their attack has been doing fine but Xavi is building a title winner off the back of an impressive defensive foundation. Barcelona are the team with the most clean sheets this season across the big five European leagues (15) – they are the first team to keep 15 clean sheets in their first 20 games in a single LaLiga season in the 21st Century.
Villarreal lost to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey in one of the best games of the season after beating them 2-1 in LaLiga just a week before. Since then, they lost to Rayo Vallecano at home and Elche last weekend. Elche are sitting at the bottom of LaLiga – our supercomputer gives them an 88.9% chance of staying there – and they hadn’t won in 19 attempts this season before Villarreal came to town. Are those results just a detour on Setien’s way to making Villarreal competitive or is this who Villarreal really are? It’s too early to tell but maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. For every spirit-lifting victory comes a soul-crushing defeat for the Yellow Submarine.
Players to Watch
Villarreal: Alex Baena
Villarreal have brought through a string of young and exciting attackers in recent years. We could have gone for Yeremi Pino or Samu Chukwueze in this spot but we have opted for a player who knits it all together and has been earning plaudits for his energetic performances in recent weeks.
Baena is a box-to-box midfielder who is also box office viewing. He is 21 years old and can do it all. He has 10 goals and five assists in all competitions this season and both his shots per game (2.65) and chances created per game (1.65) sit comfortably inside the top 20 in LaLiga. Wit Dani Parejo sitting behind him, Baena has license to run at defences and create for Gerard Moreno, Pino and Chukwueze on the flanks. He is the engine of this team.
Barcelona brought in Robert Lewandowski last summer from Bayern Munich, a striker to build an attack around. His 12.7 expected goals leads the team and the league but Barcelona have been getting help from elsewhere in terms of goals. Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri both have five and Raphinha, another summer signing, has four. The Brazilian winger added another to his tally against Sevilla on Sunday night with Gavi and Jordi Alba also getting on the scoreboard. It was the first time he has scored in consecutive LaLiga games for Barcelona after heading home the opener against Betis.
There is a lot of competition in attack for Barcelona this season with Ansu Fati, Dembélé, Ferran Torres and Raphinha all vying for starting spots either side of Lewandowski. The injury to Dembélé means Raphinha can start on the right, his preferred position, and his two goals and an assist in the last two games are proof that he can be productive.
Villarreal vs Barcelona Prediction
Despite Villarreal’s recent results against Barcelona, the supercomputer doesn’t completely write them off. The supercomputer has taken all of this into account and gives Barcelona a 41.8% chance of extending their lead at the top of LaLiga.
Our latest Global Power Rankings have Barcelona in fourth, moving up two places in the last seven days. Villarreal are currently ranked 39th, moving down four places after recent losses to Rayo and Elche.
Barcelona have a 90.2% chance of winning LaLiga for the first time since the 2018-19 season when Lionel Messi was at the club. Real Madrid play Elche on Wednesday with Club World Cup duty pushing that game back a few days. We will be keeping a very keen eye on results in LaLiga and how they affect title chances but, for now, it’s very much Barcelona’s to lose and they have a chance to put more pressure on Real Madrid to win if they can beat Villarreal at the new remodelled Estadio de la Cerámica.
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