The highlight match of the weekend will occur at the Camp Nou, where Villarreal will want to display their résumé as a legitimate threat to a dominion currently ruled by Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. After a topsy-turvy month of results where they looked somewhat hapless in away fixtures at Hércules and Sporting Gijón in La Liga and PAOK in the Europa League paired with impressive performances at El Madrigal against Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal will travel the three hour journey up the AP-7 motorway to accomplish two goals: defeat Barcelona to rise to second in the table and quash the growing notion that Villarreal cannot win important matches away from home.
If Villarreal were to at least achieve a result at the Camp Nou, it would not be a total shock because El Amarillo Submarino has been the only team in Spain not to lose at Barcelona in the past three seasons. More specifically, Villarreal has ruined Barça celebrations the past two years. Two years ago, with one win away from sealing the La Liga crown, Joseba Llorente scored in stoppage time to cap off a thrilling 3-3 draw that delayed the Blaugrana party, if only for another week. Last season, after Barcelona won the FIFA Club World Cup to finish off an unprecedented six-trophy campaign, Villarreal spoiled the fête champêtre with an inspired performance from David Fuster (!) to come away with a 1-1 draw.
One reason why Villarreal enjoys success against Barcelona is that they play a similar style to the Catalans. While Lionel Messi and David Villa combined to score thirteen goals in La Liga, second to the sixteen tallied by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuaín, Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar have quietly collaborated to score thirteen goals as well, and arguably Rossi and Nilmar’s chemistry with their interplay in the final third has been better than any other pair in Spain. With Santi Cazorla returning to his ebullient best following an injury-riddled 09/10 campaign and Borja Valero adding another dimension to Villarreal’s flowing attack from the wing or in the middle, they have the depth and firepower to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Somewhat under the radar, Barcelona is slowly peaking at the perfect time. With Real Madrid scoring off the charts and garnering most of the headlines in the Spanish press, Barcelona defeated previous league-leaders Valencia with a stirring second-half comeback and crushed Sevilla 5-0 without really hitting their top gear. Anything less than Barça brilliance has become a mini-crisis now, and Pep Guardiola could not be happier that José Mourinho and Real Madrid has taken the spotlight away from his team as they continue to build up to El Clásico.
Barcelona and Villarreal have not disappointed in their last few meetings, and expect two teams that will attack each other for the entirety of the match with move after move of twenty to thirty pass works. Villarreal has much more to gain and lose with the final result of this game on Saturday, and Juan Carlos Garrido will not hesitate to go after the win as a statement of their intent in La Liga this season.
Other intriguing matches this weekend include a matchup of impressive promoted teams in Hércules and Real Sociedad, a surprising Mallorca team that was bankrupt not too long ago against a Deportivo La Coruña team who has won their last two with a five-man defense and five goals, and Racing de Santander hosting Espanyol, who sits in the final Champions League spot despite losing four of their five matches away from the Cornellà-El Prat.
Athletic Bilbao vs. Almería – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Atlético Madrid vs. Osasuna – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD
FC Barcelona vs. Villarreal – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Hércules vs. Real Sociedad – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Racing de Santander vs. Espanyol – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 478
Mallorca vs. Deportivo La Coruña – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Real Zaragoza vs. Sevilla – 10:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Sporting Gijón vs. Real Madrid – 12:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Valencia vs. Getafe – 2:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Unfortunately, the Málaga – Levante match at La Rosaleda, Manuel Pellegrini’s first match in charge of Málaga in La Liga, will not be shown on US TV.