Time is running out for Barcelona as they seek to reel in Real Madrid at the top of the La Liga table, meaning victory over Villarreal at the Camp Nou on Saturday is essential if they’re to preserve any hopes of winning the title.
Although the Blaugrana have won both games since their remarkable Clasico triumph, Los Blancos have recovered well from that last-minute loss courtesy of Lionel Messi at the Santiago Bernabeu. With three games remaining for Barcelona, optimism is dwindling.
At this stage of the season, they can only hope that pressure on their bitter rivals does eventually trigger a misstep. And given they play first this weekend, with Real Madrid traveling to already relegated Granada later in the day, they can at least build a three-point gap at the summit. They must make Madrid aware that nothing short of perfection will do in these final weeks of the season.
Still, it’s Barcelona who have the more testing fixture this weekend. Villarreal have enjoyed yet another promising campaign in Spain’s top flight, with Fran Escriba’s side sat in fifth, just five points behind Sevilla in fourth spot.
A memorable win for Villarreal here would potentially give them an outside chance of pushing the Andalusians for the final UEFA Champions League spot. But in reality, the prime ambition of the Yellow Submarine will be holding off Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, who are finishing the season strongly.
It means that Barcelona are going to get a game in a must-win match here. Madridistas, meanwhile, will be hopeful this is the weekend the Catalonians’ title charge ends in earnest.
Where to watch Barcelona vs. Villarreal on TV and streaming
Last Saturday, when Dani Parejo equalised for Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu, you suspect hope would have stirred in the Barcelona players ahead of their visit to local rivals Espanyol. And in the same breath, when Marcelo stuck away the winning goal a couple of minutes later, it would have been a major blow.
So perhaps it was little surprise we saw the Blaugrana struggle to get out of first gear in the Catalan derby for long spells, especially without their conductor-in-chief Andres Iniesta. But eventually, aided by a calamitous lapse in concentration by Jose Manuel Jurado, they were able to break through via Luis Suarez.
A 3-0 triumph followed, as Barcelona ensured the title race remained on a tightrope in the final weeks of the season. And now, the Blaugrana face up to their most difficult match of 2016-17, with a visit to Las Palmas and a home clash with Eibar to finish the season.
Admittedly, a league title win would be a bonus for this group of players and the manager now. Ahead of the Clasico, and even 92 minutes into it, Barcelona’s La Liga hopes looked dashed. But they’ve continued to cling on, ensuring their relentless rivals don’t processionally coast over the line.