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Preview: Villarreal vs Barcelona – prediction, team news, line-ups

Sunday’s La Liga action brings up a handsome-looking encounter between Villarreal and Barcelona at the Estadio de la Ceramica.

After narrowly missing out on a top-four finish last season, Quique Setien’s side headed into the new campaign looking to go one better. 

However, a 2-1 home defeat to Real Betis clipped their wings, exposing their vulnerabilities following the high-profile departures of Pau Torres, Samuel Chukwueze and Nicolas Jackson.

Long-serving stalwart Gerard Moreno reignited confidence in the province of Castellon with a second-half winner at Mallorca last weekend, setting up Villarreal nicely for this mouth-watering fixture. 

Despite beating Real Madrid to the La Liga title last season, Barcelona couldn’t do much to keep their squad competitive during the summer transfer window due to the club’s financial turmoil.

Ilkay Gundogan’s arrival from Manchester City paid off last week as the German midfielder delivered a crucial assist in a 2-0 home win over perennial bottom-half strugglers Cadiz. 

Xavi Hernandez’s side sealed a morale-boosting victory, courtesy of late goals from Pedri and Ferran Torres, following a stomach-wrenching 0-0 draw at Getafe on the opening weekend. 

It was a perfect response to the reluctant sale of Ousmane Dembele to Paris Saint-Germain, but the Blaugrana’s performance flattered to deceive, supporting our 2023/24 La Liga predictions

Barcelona will have another chance to prove us wrong for backing Madrid to reclaim domestic supremacy when they take on Villarreal on Sunday. 

Match Preview

Setien’s abysmal record of one win and seven defeats from eight previous managerial encounters against former employers Barcelona cannot fill Villarreal with confidence. 

Neither can the fact the Yellow Submarine have emerged victorious once in their last 28 La Liga matches against the Catalans (D6, L21), accounting for their worst H2H record against a single top-flight opponent.

On a more positive note, before succumbing to the abovementioned loss to Betis, Villarreal had gone unbeaten in five consecutive home league outings (W4, D1), netting 2+ goals on each occasion.

However, a lack of defensive resilience remains an issue, with Setien’s side racking up just one clean sheet in their last seven La Liga games at La Ceramica. 

Unlike Villarreal, defensive solidity has been a hallmark of Xavi’s tenure at Barcelona, with the Blaugrana starting the season with back-to-back shutouts. 

The reigning La Liga champions conceded a league-low 20 goals en route to conquering the division last term, and if their early 2023/24 exchanges are anything to go by, they will continue in the same rhythm. 

Sunday’s trip to La Ceramica looks challenging, at least on paper. But after going unbeaten on their last 14 league visits to the province of Castellon (W10, D4), Barcelona should relish this road trip.

There’s a piece of history up for grabs, with only two goals separating the Camp Nou heavyweights from becoming the first club in La Liga to score a century of top-flight goals against Villarreal.

Team News

After missing out on the opening two rounds, Alberto Moreno and Francis Coquelin remain out of contention due to long-term fitness problems. 

Yeremy Pino is touch-and-go, with Villarreal boss Setien hoping to have his quicksilver forward fit to make the bench. 

Barcelona will take this trip without injured duo Pedri and Ronald Araujo, as well as suspended winger Raphinha. 

There’s a glimmer of hope that summer arrival Inigo Martinez could make the matchday squad as he’s inching closer to recovery from a muscle injury.

Villarreal potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Filip Jorgensen; Juan Foyth, Matteo Gabbia, Jorge Cuenca, Alfonso Pedraza; Ramon Terrats, Dani Parejo, Alex Baena; Gerard Moreno, Alexander Sorloth, Ben Brereton Diaz. 

Barcelona potential starting line-up:

(3-4-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Frenkie de Jong; Lamine Yamal, Oriol Romeu, Ilkay Gundogan, Alejandro Balde; Gavi, Robert Lewandowski, Ferran Torres. 

We Say: Villarreal 1-1 Barcelona

Despite Barcelona’s formidable run of form at La Ceramica, we expect Villarreal to grab a point against Xavi’s injury-riddled squad.

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