Damn the Torpedoes, We Need 3 Points: Villarreal-Barça

Liga Preview: Villarreal-Barcelona, Saturday 4pm ET, ESPN Deportes/ESPN3.com

I was optimistic about their chances going in. They had retained all but Santi Cazorla and Joan Capdevila over the summer (and that perennial goal-monster Jozy Altidore, of course), meaning they had the majority of their team intact. They were missing a playmaker, yes, and a very hit-or-miss left back–also true–and I wrote “Villarreal appears set for a dive down into the table, but the weakness I see in other teams is the ballast that will keep them up at periscope depth.” I was wrong only about one thing: Villarreal was not going to be buoyed by my terrible nautical terminology.

It turns out they’re terrible. They just defeated fellow relegation battlers Sporting Gijon (Preciado’s mustache must have been trimmed for the encounter), but that’s just they’re 4th victory of the season. Their other victories were against Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, and Real Betis. All have been at home, where they’re a solid 4W-4D-1L (15GF, 10GA). It is virtually identical to Barcelona’s away record: 4W-4D-1L (16GF, 10GA). Roughly speaking, it’s an even match between the 2nd placed side and the 17th placed side.

With Real Madrid facing off against last placed Real Zaragoza at the Bernabeu in the match prior to their own encounter, Barcelona are likely to be facing another 8 point gap. I think it would be fair to say that anything less from los blancos could be fairly treated as an epic tropiezo. The La Liga equivalent of this. For Barça, though, there’s a match to be played regardless of that outcome (no doubt if they lose, Mourinho will ride in the ref’s car all the way home berating him).

Villarreal are no true slouches. Yes, they’ve lost a large number of games (8) and they have the T-15th worst defense in the league with 28 goals allowed, but they have the T-8th best defense at home (10). They drew with Valencia 2-2 at the Madrigal and before that they drew with Real Sociedad at home. They’re capable of stealing points, that’s for sure. Anyone thinking that their 17th place situation is going to stop them from playing their hearts out in front of their own fans is crazy or hasn’t been paying attention the last few years to what goes on in that stadium.

Villarreal’s squad is this: Diego López (GK), César (GK), Mariño (GK), Joan Oriol, Mario, Gonzalo, Ángel, Marchena, Zapata, Musacchio, Marcos Senna, Bruno, Cani, Camuñas, Borja Valero, De Guzmán, Castellani, Marco Ruben, Joselu.

That squad is missing even more key ingredients, including Nilmar as well as long-term injury Giuseppe Rossi. They’ve signed no one in the transfer window, but have also not let anyone go. They remain dangerous given that it’s Marco Ruben that’s their leading goalscorer with 6. Borja Valero comes in with the most assists (4) and holds down their midfield region alongside Marcos Senna. He’s not particularly goalscory this year with just 3 to his name, but he’s capable when the mood takes him, as it did last week with this stunner (better quality at 4:50 here).

Barça are down a few players, yet can still field a rather competitive starting 11. The squad sent to El Madrigal is thus: Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Adriano, Abidal, Alves, Pedro, Jonathan dos Santos, Isaac Cuenca, Sergi Roberto, Cristian Tello.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pep tinker with the lineup even though he knows it’s extremely risky. There’s Valencia on Wednesday in the Copa semifinals, after all. Yet losing any more points to Madrid is, as it was before, an invitation to losing the league, even this early. 5 points is surmountable, but 7 or 8 points seems extremely unlikely. So why not start a solid 11 and get the points? Then bother about Valencia on Wednesday. We’re already missing Iniesta and Alexis from this past Wednesday, so tinkering is a must, but not the point of starting, say, Pedro, right?

Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Cesc, Messi, Pedro

Official Prediction: 1-2. A very hard game that wears the team down even more and causes a loss in Valencia on Wednesday. Which is okay if we beat Real Sociedad on the rebound. Goals by Adriano and Messi.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. Turns out Pedro is injured again :/
    Is replaced in match squad by Alexis who himself is injured..Hlebruary has come early!

  2. I hope these can make them stronger! Unite the group in the face of aversion!

    Seeing now the news with all the fall-out from the latest classicos – Pepe’s provocation to supporters, JM waiting for the referee, Casilas’ statement to the referee, RM’s players attitude after the game and so on – one must have the feeling that wrong people showed up for the game. Is like when you play football on the street and you realize your opponents are not fully sane. As sociopaths disregard social norms I have the feeling that RM willingness to push and ridicule this game exhibits some disturbing pathological tendencies.

  3. Forlan please.

    In the previous thread somebody said that besides Neymar, there is no one of that caliber.

    I would like to disagree.
    I find that Eden Hazard or Muniain is a better all round player.
    We should go for either of them, preferably the former.

    1. As a temporary back-up, besides Forlan, I would take Kanoute and Chamakh even though they’re only available in February.

    2. Kanoute is though a class player before, is finished. And Chamakh is just dreadful. Apart from Forlan, whose wages would be massive, there are few genuine goalscorers out there. Eden Hazard and Muinian would be good in creating but not too far ahead of any B team talent. There is a dearth of genuine class out there at the moment imo.

    3. Better all round than Neymar ? I’m not particularly looking for him to come to us but he has just about everything you could wish for.

  4. Pedro out injured??? YIKES.

    I say ¡NO! to playing Alexis on pain killers. He is too important a player and has proven himself injury-prone enough this year to risk aggravation. We will need him in the clasicós to come this year.

  5. When it rains it pours
    Will this mean CUENCA gets a start, maybe SERGI ROBERTO can get the nod also.
    Due to injuries, this might prove to be our toughest game yet, i hope the team can survive the night and emerge victorious.

  6. This season we’ve seen a Barcelona team that in many ways is the most talented Pep has had at his disposal.

    But they’ve also been more inconsistent than we’re used to. This has especially been the case away from home as has been well documented.

    But when you put that pattern of inconsistency together with the other major issue that’s developed this season – injuries, especially hamstring injuries – then a bigger picture starts to form.

    I think what we’re seeing in terms of consistency and injury is influenced by accumulated fatigue. These players have played more minutes then any other squad in the world over the past three years, particularly when you factor in the international duty.

    This season the schedule was going to be even more demanding compared to last.

    Pep talked about the stress that this season would create last summer. He knew it was going to be a major challenge.

    I think it’s just become too much. And the team is breaking down.

    I don’t think you have to look very far beyond that. There’s a level of physical and mental fatigue that’s set in.

    This is part of the trade off for building the side around a small squad model. Barca just hasn’t had much depth for the past few seasons. And over time the squad grown slightly smaller while accumulating more games.

    This summer Pep talked about needing a bigger squad. And they added two key player from outside and Thiago. That’s been fundamental. Without those players the team would be drifting right now.

    But overall, the squad really didn’t become any larger. Especially when you consider the fact that Maxwell and Fontas never seemed like they had Pep’s full confidence.

    The forward position in particular was very thin given that both Bojan and Jeffren left. Neither played major minutes last season – but they were still members of the team and could be called upon when needed. They were replaced only by Alexis.

    Cuenca has emerged and been great. These kinds of things are the main reason why the small squad has benefits. It allows new young player to emerge.

    But there’s a risk with that small squad approach. There’s trade offs. And right now we’re unfortunately seeing the downside to that trade off. This is especially true because the players from the B team with promise who are being called up on the forward line are wide players. The options to play in the middle are largely absent.

    These recurring hamstring injuries really suggest fatigue. I think part of what may be happening is that all of the players know the team is short to begin with. So when they get injured they try to come back as early as they can. In turn this increases their risk for repeat injury.

    And hamstring injuries are particularly high risk for recurring again and again as we’re seeing.

    Unfortunately, the upcoming schedule is just brutal. They’ll be playing Valencia 3 times for example.

    I think its unrealistic to expect them not to drop points or to win all of the games they need to over the next month.

    1. Thank God we have signed Cesc. At least he can play in a very advanced, central attacking role.
      And fortunately Cesc is not as injury prone as he was at Arsenal. We need him!

      I want to remark though that the only player who is constantly suffering from hamstring injuries, which might be induced by fatigue, is Andres Iniesta. Remember that Iniesta has had this recurring hamstring problems 2 years ago. He seems to have a particular susceptibility.

      The unlucky injuries of Andréu Fontas, David Villa and Ibi Afellay are not associated to fatigue. Pedro has actually had quite some rest even when he was fit this season.
      Alexis Sanchez, who has also had a hamstring injury as far as I remember, didn’t play that many matches over the last 3 years.

      I think the lack of consistency is down to the fatigue, but our injury list is also some bad luck. Of course the injuries might effect our consistency…

      And of course a deeper squad would be helpful. Nonetheless 2 ACLs and a broken leg is abnormal and could not have been foreseen by anyone.

    2. Hate to say it but the first thing you’d normally look at with so many hamstring injuries is the training regime and warm up routine.

    3. Indeed, Euler.

      This is why I have been writing in these forums that there is a need to look beyond the B squad for reinforcements.

      From a systemic viewpoint, how much of a trade off is it to get someone who is not trained in the system (from/at the B level) but is skilled and experienced enough versus the vice versa is the question that needs to be answered.

      I think, that Pep is leaning too much on the latter option – of staying true to the La Masia system and get in replacements from there to be backups for the best XI + bench. The trouble in this approach is that there is a big drop off from experienced first teamers who rank possibly among the best ever top 100 players to this year’s B team that is languishing in the lower reaches of the Segunda A by playing mostly recently promoted Juvenil players.

      Cuenca was a pleasant addition, but I think there is a degree of him being sorted out or perhaps him hitting what in the NBA is called the “rookie wall”. Tello is yet untested; Dos Santos has been mostly iffy; and there has not really been anyone tried out for the wide positions outside Cuenca.

      There is a thin line between staying true to a belief and a system and being dogmatic. I think since the Ibrahimovic failure, Pep has stretched his belief system a bit too far.

      But again, getting a decent transfer target also seems to be a Sisyphean task now.

      One player I thought would have been a decent fit from outside was the 32 year old Juanlu from Levante, who did a great job going forward and defending from a wide left position, while scoring important goals for the other Blaugrana squad. (I think I mentioned that in BFB some months ago). Too bad, Juanlu did a Villa in getting a long term injury himself.

      Diego Forlan has also been injured lately and has not been in any kind of form. Freddie Kanoute perhaps? Not likely to be released from Sevilla. And I don’t know about any more potential transfers. Hopefully the Barca “Front Office” is doing its due diligence in finding out short term replacements. Or else competing for three trophies with all the physical atrophy would be a tall order.

      And as Euler mentioned in another comment elsewhere, the only advantages that Madrid have had this season in abundance are a substantial squad and physicality.

    4. Pep talked about the stress that this season would create last summer. He knew it was going to be a major challenge.

      If he really knew it, why didn’t he get enough reinforcements?
      Why would he take such a big gamble?

    5. It’s always been a gamble for the past 3 years, but we haven’t had 3 people out with long term injuries. Even last year with our left back crisis it wasn’t this bad.

      You can’t have world class/near world class players riding the bench in the off-chance that someone gets injured. At least not in the medium or long-term.

    1. El Pais nails it.

      A hooligan who plays to the Ultra Sur fascist gallery and a general cancer – Jose Mourinho.

      Finally someone had the guts to say it aloud in the Spanish press – and that too in its most serious and respected paper, El Pais.

  7. Oh, and Kanoute has finally said straight out that Cesc never insulted him racially. Thanks for that, Freddie, but you think maybe you could have been a bit clearer about it at the time?

  8. I am with Pep in this. Although it would be nice to get reinforcements, we have to think beyond this season. Any additions may or will become surplus when all the first teamers who are injured return.
    I don’t think Pep will sell Villa or Affelay. Neither do I want that. At the end of the season when we lift all the trophies available, everybody will be amazed at the resilience of the team and Pep’s foresight. Now we’re going to rely more on the genius of Leo and the determination of our lionhearted captain.
    This season will be the most rewarding of them all because of what we suffered!!! We will win!!!

  9. Posted above
    Kanoute though a class player before, is finished. And Chamakh is just dreadful. Apart from Forlan, whose wages would be massive, there are few genuine goalscorers out there. Eden Hazard and Muinian would be good in creating but not too far ahead of any B team talent. There is a dearth of genuine class out there at the moment imo.

    1. In addition to injuries/fatigue I believe the team is lacking genuine competition in some postions.

  10. What about getting the Brazilian dude from Shaktar, I forgot his name…we were all talking about him this summer. Is he still avl?

    1. Willian- don’t know seems a winger. I’d prefer a short term loan deal of a goalscorer. Look at Betis, they got Roque Santa Cruz

    2. Willian. Reportedly Shakthar and Chelsea have been discussing his transfer. Evidently Roman likes him as a player and is very good friends with the owner of Shakhtar (or at least knows him well and gets along with him – they are both in petroleum).

      They’ve quoted this outrageous figure – 17M pounds or something. That’s just nuts because Willian is out of contract.

      However, it seems that AVB isn’t necessarily interested in bringing him in. The usual Roman. Never changes.

      So not sure what’s going on with Willian. But if he was available on a free over the summer I think he’s a player Barca should consider as long as Pep likes him, which reportedly he does.

  11. Are all of the injuries related to fatigue? No. Of course not. But these injuries – especially the recurrent hamstrings- are likely correlated in some way. A pattern has emerged.

    So Fontas’s injury clearly isn’t fatigue.

    But let’s consider Villa. Remember – he had been ineffective for quite some time. And it was only after the fracture that we learned that he has been having significant pain in his lower leg due to a stress fracture. It was the stress fracture that was hampering his level of play. It was the stress fracture which may have set the context for his ultimate fracture.

    Stress fractures are directly related to overwork and fatigue.

    Afellay – before he tore his cruciate ligament he also had a hamstring injury. In fact he was in the process of returning when he wound up tearing his hamstring.

    There’s different kinds of fatigue. I think something that may have been the “tipping point” for these injuries was the lack of a true preseason training period for the club after playing so late in the CL’s the season before.

    That lack of training seems to have really hurt the team and may have helped start this cascade of injuries.

    Regardless it is what it is so to speak.

    Ryan’s point above is on the mark. It’s always been a gamble to have a squad this small. It’s just that this season the down side risk has finally surfaced.

  12. I’ll not repeat my “issues” with squad building as I tend to nag before the problem strikes. So, moving forward, and taking in consideration Pep’s -understandable- intention not to sign any players this month:

    You can create virtual depth through enriching your tactical alternatives. Looking at the resources in hand, I think (since the beginning of the season) the main problem was offense depth. I’ve been demanding a smarter approach to use offence line resources with more efficiency. Stop the 3-4-3 as it means more Cesc in the midfield BESIDE three players upfront. That mean using four of the players capable of playing upfront in the same games even though you dont need to.

    Use Cesc only in Offense and pick more games to play with two forwards (4-4-2 adding Thiago in the midfield, or 3-3-2-2 where you only use two center midfielders from Xavi/Iniesta/Thiago/Keita and let Alves and Adriano create width for two forwards (rotating Cesc/Alexis/Messi/Pedro/even Thiago can do). I would also promote Montoya as he can play in some games and rest Alves. He may prove reliable enough -already- and give Pep a chance to use Alves upfront more often.

    Of course the 4-3-3 will still be the main system especially that it also give a chance for the likes of Cuenca to be involved. Yet, more diversity that doesnt include a 3-4-3 can help a lot. No doubt.

    1. Agree completely on Montoya. He’s ready. In fact of all the B team players he might be the most ready.

      As you describe, the advantage of promoting Montoya is that it allows you to use Dani up front and do so in a way that actually adds depth to the forward line.

  13. I’d like to see Adriano get a couple games on the wing. He has looked good when he’s played there this season, most recently against Malaga where he created the first two goals with excellent crosses.

    Another option I think Pep should consider is using Thiago on the left wing. The thing with Thiago is he is turning into a very different player than many of us envisioned he would be – much more disciplined and willing to do the not so glorious work in the midfield. Cesc should be preferred to him upfront if they are both on the pitch.

  14. OK, why is it that teams score against Madrid in the first 30 minutes of the game only to give them more than 60 to turn it around? Can’t they hold the draw or keep the score to only being a goal down until the last 30 minutes and score then, as they do with us…

    This will be the third game in a row this happens…

    1. With Athletic it looked like they were going to score 2 or 3 more in the 1st half, but the finishing just wasn’t there. Pretty frustrating, especially after you see Llorente score a hat trick this weekend!

    2. Yes, but they didn’t and it ended up 4-1.

      This one is looking like going the same way – they alread equalized…

  15. The key to playing Villareal is width. Their two advanced midfield interiores are essentially required to play two different roles as once: wingers and central attacking midfielders.

    The Villareal goal is to try to get all 4 midfielders in the center of the pitch so that they can generate a 4 vs. 3 numerical advantage in midfield.

    If you can stretch them through play on the flanks and force their interiores wide that leaves Villareal with only 2 midfielders in central positions. The ball can be switched between flanks and middle where Barca would have a 3/4 vs. 2 numerical advantage.

    The other major advantage of this kind of flank based approach is that it pins back the villareal full backs. In possession the FB are the only source of width for Villareal.

    Given the injuries, a promising way to play today might be as a variant of a 3-5-2 type formation. The key is to make sure that Barca have dynamic outlets wide who can play the ball in order to stretch the advanced midfielders and pin back the full backs.

  16. Kwadwoh Asamoah is a cracking footballer.

    Diabate with a brilliant free kick that goes just off the bar. Mali comes so close to taking the 1-0 lead. Ghana really needs to pick it up.

  17. Keita with a foul in midfield. Immediately pulls a classic “what me” Keita face where he pulls his hands up. Yellow carded for arguing.

  18. Good game from the B team today. A needed win. Unfortunate that there was no real stream for the match. Disappointing.

    Dongu made his B team debut in the match. He’s 16. What a talent.

  19. Pep as usual surprises with his team selection:

    Valdes Alves Puyol Pique Abidal, Xavi Busquets Mascherano, Cesc Messi Adriano

    Busquets and Mascherano are playing together. Very surprising to see both Puyol and Pique play again, Puyol in particular.

    Perhaps most surprising – no Thiago in the starting line up. No cuenca either.

    My guess is that we’re going to see 3 at the back with Alves and Adriano wide as wingers. I wonder if in fact we may see a 3-5-2 type formation. The difference between a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 with Alves/ Adriano wide is really very small so we may see some kind of mixture of formations.

    These players have really played a lot of minutes over the past two weeks. Its going to be a tough match.

    That Pep is pushing them and also including Alexis in the match squad just speaks to how urgent every Liga match is. He’s again prioritized playing more experienced players.

    The concern with the line up today is where the scoring is going to come from outside of Messi. Fabregas was very off form against Madrid. He looked tired and didn’t have that extra gear of energy.

    This is a match where they are going to need more from Busquets. Ball circulation isn’t enough. He’s going to need to create some danger towards goal. If he doesn’t he’s just going to make it easeir for Villareal to crowd around Messi and Cesc.

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