Sixth-placed Villarreal face a stiff test on Monday morning when they face dominant La Liga leaders Barcelona at the Estadio de la Cerámica in the province of Castellón.
11 December 2017
Kick-off: 03:45 (HKT)
Venue: Estadio de la Cerámica
Referee: Ricardo De Burgos
Assistants: Jon Núñez, Iker De Francisco
Fourth official: Aimar Velasco
TEAM MATCHES WIN DRAW LOSS
Villarreal 38 8 9 21
Barcelona 38 21 9 8
Barcelona 4-1 Villarreal (6 May 2017) La Liga
Barca scorers: Neymar (21′), L. Messi (45′), L. Suárez (69′), L. Messi (82′)
Villarreal scorer: C. Bakambu (32′)
Players to watch:
For El Submarino Amarillo, Cédric Bakambu is in scintillating form in front of goal. With nine goals in 13 Primera División outings, the Democratic Republic of Congo forward is a hot commodity on the European stage. The 26-year-old is just two strikes behind his tally for 2016/17 and could use his pace and guile to cause problems for Barça’s defence on home soil.
Inevitably, it will likely be the Lionel Messi show once more on Sunday night with the magical Argentina genius at the peak of his powers. However, Paulinho has been one of the supporting cast who has stood out for Blaugrana this season. Trademark late runs into the box from midfield means he is always a threat to score as the Brazil star looks to add to his four goals in 13 league appearances.
Team form and quotes:
After coming into the contest on the back of just one win in their last five La Liga games, Villarreal are seemingly not in the best of form. A 1-0 defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Europa League last Thursday will no doubt have shaken confidence levels as well.
Nonetheless, manager Javier Calleja believes his team can rise to the challenge if the players play to their full potential. He said, “There are players who can be important in the club. We have a tough rival and we need them all.”
Meanwhile, Barcelona have had a slight blip in form in terms of their usual high standards. The visitors have won just twice in their last five league games. With that said, boss Ernesto Valverde is no doubt full of confidence as he had the luxury of resting Messi in last Tuesday’s 2-0 UEFA Champions League victory over Sporting.
Speaking to reporters, the 30-year-old admitted he accepted being on the bench if it allowed him to be at his best throughout the campaign. He said, “The year is very hard and I have to accept playing less. I understood that because there are many games in the same season. The years, in addition, are noticed and the body begins to take its toll if you play all the games. I understand that it is the best.”
Andrés Fernández, Denis Cheryshev and Nicola Sansone are all out with injury while Carlos Bacca, Rúben Semedo, Samu Castillejo and Bruno Soriano are doubtful. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo could make his return to the starting line-up.
Ousmane Dembélé and Rafinha have returned to training after injury though they aren’t expected to be fully fit for the game. Andrés Iniesta and Javier Mascherano are closing on a return to action but are in doubt. Samuel Umtiti is ruled out after he was injured in the 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo on 2 December.