Match Preview and Team News
FC Barcelona host Villarreal at the Camp Nou this evening and the home side will be hoping that they can keep up the pressure on Real Madrid after the Spanish league leaders extended the gap at the top of La Liga to 8 points by beating Espanyol at the Bernabeu last night…
However, Frank Rijkaard says that he is unconcerned by Real Madrid and is entirely focused upon his own side's performances. The Barcelona coach said "That is all we can do. If we don't get the results then it is worthless, we need to play a good game of football on Sunday and see where that takes us."
Barcelona will need to bounce back from last weekends 4-2 league defeat at Atletico Madrid where the Catalans dominated in terms of possession, but created very little: a recurrent trend this season.
Unfortunately, Barcelona's attacking threat has been diminished by an injury to Lio Messi that rules him out for at least six weeks.
Rijkaard insists that his side are just as capable as winning La Liga: with or without the 20 year old Argentine forward who picked up the thigh injury against Celtic on Tuesday evening. Rijkaard said "He is out and he will be missed, but we are capable of winning without him and we have shown that in the past."
The Barcelona coach, who has been under intense scrutiny from the Catalan media, insists that Barcelona will continue to stick with their trademark 4-3-3 formation in spite of Messi's absence.
The Dutchman said "We will keep playing in the same way, just with another player in his position. The team feels most comfortable with this way of playing."
Villarreal are currently third in La Liga and see tonight's match as a genuine opportunity to close the gap on the two Spanish giants above them in the table. Following defeats on Saturday to both Atletico and Espanyol, their closest challengers for third place, a win for Villarreal would put them six points clear of fourth and just four points behind Barcelona.
Villarreal midfielder Robert Pires insists his side are only looking upward and said "Our aim is to get into the Champions League. People only talk about Real Madrid and Barcelona, but if we are capable of winning on Sunday we can think about fighting for something more."
The Villarreal coach, Manuel Pellegrini, will have his side fired up for tonight's game and he has already underlined the importance of the result. He said "Barça are a very difficult team at their home stadium and have much potential to play well. We go with the aim of winning, since it is the last opportunity that we have to trim the gap to them and fight for the second place."
In spite of a disappointing 0-0 draw at El Madrigal with Osasuna last week and an inability to find the back of the net with any regularity of late, Villarreal will take confidence from the ease with which they beat Barcelona 3-1 in La Liga back in October. As Pellegrini said " we have beaten Barcelona in the past with Messi on the pitch and we have demonstrated that regardless of who plays, the differences between the teams are small."
It should be a tight game.
Villarreal have looked reasonably solid in defence recently and the key to this match will be whether or not Barcelona can turn their possession in to anything more threatening. The visitors will be hard to break down and will certainly try to hurt Barcelona on the counter attack.
Thierry Henry should start for Barcelona in place of the injured Lio Messi, although Gio Dos Santos returns to the squad and could well play a role. In Defence, Carles Puyol misses the match through suspension and Rafa Marquez continues to require treatment for his long term injury.
Angel Lopez is suspended for Villarreal, while Fabricio Fuentes and Cani miss out through injury. Giuseppe Rossi and Pascal Cygan could feature after returning to fitness this week.
Recent Form: Barcelona W4 L1 D1/ Villarreal W3 L1 D2