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Following the unsuccessful bid to get the year off to a winning start at San Mamés in Thirsday's Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao, Lionel Messi and his Barcelona side will need a win in their first league fixture of 2017 to keep the pressure on the leaders Real Madrid who beat Granada 5-0 on Saturday when they travel to Villarreal to face the Yellow Submarines on Sunday at the Camp El Madrigal.
Barça are fortunate in the injury department at the moment, with goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen the only casualty with a soleus injury.
Villarreal, meanwhile, have been cheered by the news that Brazilian Pato is over a bout of flu in time. Centre back Víctor Ruiz has recovered from his fitness concerns, and Bruno Soriano is on the mend too and may well feature on Sunday.
Head to Head
Games between these clubs have a history of being lively affairs, but things generally end up going Barça’s way. They’re unbeaten in 14 meetings in all competitions, the last defeat being a 2-1 reverse way back in 2008. In games at El Madrigal, the record stretches back even further – where the Catalans have won six and drawn three on their last nine visits.
A man to watch in the Barça ranks is Neymar Jr. This could be the perfect moment to end his dry spell in front of goal, for Villarreal is the side against which he has scored more times than any other. In five meetings, the Brazilian has only failed to find the net once.
Barça may have suffered defeat at Athletic Club in the cup this week, but they will have home advantage for the second leg on Wednesday. That result brought an end to an unbeaten run of ten matches in all competitions, but on the plus side it is now more than a quarter of a year since the Blaugrana last lost a Liga fixture.
Villarreal are also entering the game on the back of a Copa del Rey reverse, 3-1 at Real Sociedad, the first time this season that they have conceded that many goals in a single game. In fact, they have the best defensive record in LaLiga, especially at home where the ball has only landed in their net five terms in total. The Yellow Submarine is still afloat in the Europa League too, with AS Roma next up in the round of 32.
And for collectors of curious stats, Villarreal is the only team so far in LaLiga not to have conceded a single goal from outside the area. The game also brings the chance for Jonathan dos Santos to face his former club – and after scoring in his last two Liga games, the Mexican seems to have hit form just in time.
Luis Enrique, Barcelona manager: "Villarreal play well and create attacking opportunities as well as being solid defensively. It will be hard as they want possession just as much as we do. The key factor is having control of the ball against a team like this."
Fran Escribá, Villarreal manager: "it is very important for us to focus on their goal. The game could end 0-0, but you’d expect there to be goals.
"So we need to defend as well as we can but also with an eye on scoring ourselves. We know how to score and the idea is to win the game. It’s as hard as things get, but I think we can cause them damage."
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