Barcelona face a daunting challenge in effort to keep up the pressure on Real Madrid in the La Liga title race as the Catalans are welcoming in-form Villarreal at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barcelona keep pushing
Having already secured their automatic Champions League promotion with a ten-point lead in front third-placed Atletico Madrid, Barcelona are now focusing on the La Liga title race which is far from being over even though Real Madrid have a game in hand on the Catalan giants. Both teams are currently tied on points – 81 – but Barcelona are leading the pack with better record from head-to-head matches and on goal difference as well. Luis Enrique cannot afford a single slip up until the end of the season which puts plenty of pressure on the players ahead of the highly-anticipated match against fifth-placed Villarreal. Barcelona are coming off from the 3-0 win in the Catalan derby over Espanyol which will have provided the team with a valuable morale boost. Barca have recovered from the frustrating Champions League elimination with a five-match unbeaten run and are heading into the Saturday’s duel on the back of a three-match winning run. Barcelona traditionally do good against Villarreal as Blaugrana are without a defeat in last 17 matches against the Yellow Submarine, in a streak that stretches all the way to 2008.
Andreas Iniesta is a major doubt due to his groin injury, whereas Rafinha and Aleix Vidal are definitely ruled out for the match together with defender Jeremy Mathieu.
Defensively tight Villarreal
Fran Escriba’s men are having a good season in La Liga this year. The Yellow Submarine boasts a defensive record that is only bettered by Atletico Madrid’s defensive exploits this campaign. Even though they lost Asenjo due to injury earlier in the season, Villarreal only conceded 28 goals which is a remarkable number for an attack-oriented side such as the one they have. Villarreal is enjoying a fantastic spell of late which saw them win five of last six La Liga matches, including a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderon. Cedric Bakambu has been in superb form for his team this season, scoring ten goal in La Liga already and he is expected to be the biggest threat for the Catalans on Sunday. Villarreal are expected to be hugely motivated against Barcelona as they look to end their dreadful run versus the Catalans. Escriba’s men have become oine of the best at taking the sting out of the matches in La Liga and will be hoping to exploit Barcelona’s defensive weaknesses at Camp Nou to put pressure on Sevilla, who are five points in front in the remaining Champions League (play-off) slot.
Fran Escriba is likely to continue with Daniele Bonera and Alvaro Gonzales in the heart of defense, as Victor Ruiz continues to miss out. Sergio Asenjo and Denis Cheryshev are rules out through knee injury and a muscle issue, respectively.
Villarreal will do their best to present Barcelona with a difficult job at Camp Nou, but the Catalans are under a lot of pressure and will push hard straight from the off. Luis Suarez is in great shape and the Yellow Submarine is likely to be submerged in Cataluña.
Top pick: Barcelona to win both halves 2.05 (21/20) @Sportingbet
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – yes 1.80 (4/5) @10Bet
Alternative pick 2: Luis Suarez to score anytime 1.57 (4/7) @Bet365