1-0 Pires (min. 56)
2-0 Marcos (min. 84)
Barça were beaten at Villareal despite playing good football and creating plenty of scoring chances. Second half goals from Pires and Marcos gave the home side a 2-0 win that does little justice to the game.
Rikjaard’s team started the game well and were conscious of the need to secure the three
points following the victories of their nearest rivals. However, the first chances fell to
Villarreal, firstly an effort from Forlan that went narrowly wide and then a header from Josico
following a corner.
Plenty of chances
The first real opportunity for Barça came in the 17th minute. Eto’o headed down a long pass from Xavi into the path of Messi whose low shot was blocked by Viera’s legs. It was the first of many scoring chances. Soon after, a goalbound header from Ronaldinho was cleared off the line by the Villarreal defence.
Barça’s play was quick and intelligent. After a half an hour Samuel Eto’o finished off a good move with a shot from outside the area that just missed the target. Minutes later the Cameroon international had an even better chance but the goalkeeper read his intentions. Eto’o had yet another chance with a header from Messi’s cross but he failed to steer his effort at goal.
Solid in defence
Apart from the attacking play, the defence led by Thuram and Puyol was not giving away much to the Villarreal, who were suffocated by the Barça pressure in all areas of the field. In the 42 minute, Xavi and Ronaldinho created a wonderful chance inside the Villarreal area but the Brazilian could not get the better of Viera in the one-on-one. The first half finished without goals and Barça went to the dressing room without anything to show for the dominant first half display.
After being thoroughly outplayed by Barça in the first half, Villarreal came out to surprise following the restart. Just as in the first half Barcelona continued to attack from the off and Ronaldinho came close to opening the scoring in the 52nd minute with a free-kick. However it was Villarreal who were to make the vital breakthrough. Cani’s incisive pass put Frenchman Robert Pires in the clear, and he made no mistake to beat Valdes and put the home side into the lead. It was a goal they scarcely deserved and was hard justice on Barça.
Dominance without reward
The blow left Barça a little shocked but they continued in the same vein as previously in the efforts to turn the game around. Rikjaard brought on Gudjohnsen for Sylvinho (min. 73) Immediately the Icelandic player made Viera work. Unfortunately, the ambition showed throughout by Barça went unrewarded and it was Villareal who added a second with a shot from Marcos into the bottom corner of the net. Right at the end of the game, Ronaldinho hit the crossbar with a cheeky free-kick, but it was not going to be Barça’s night.
Despite the defeat Barça are still top of the table with a one point advantage over Sevilla.
The referee for the game will be Alfonso Pérez Burrull. He has been in charge of 13 league games this season – and just one involving Barça (the defeat to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu) Of the 13 games mentioned, 8 have finished in victory for the home team, 4 in favour of the away side and one was drawn.
Barça will face Villarreal already knowing the results of their direct rivals in the title race and will go into the game with the intention of maintaining their lead at the top of the league table.
When Barça kick-off their match against Villarreal (21h00, C+) they will already know what their
rivals have done this weekend. That could prove to be an advantage, however coach Rikjaard admitted
in his last press conference “the only results that interests us is our own”. Barça
must keep up the pace that last week allowed then to stretch their lead at the top of the table. An
added bonus for Rikjaard is the return to action of their star striker.
With Ronaldinho: The return of the Brazilian after missing the last two matches (one in the league and another in the cup) means that Rikjaard will once again have all three of his first choice strike force available - Ronaldinho, Eto'o and Messi. In the last three games, in the league v Zaragoza and Mallorca and in the cup v Getafe, the coach has been unable to field a team featuring these three extraordinary players.
The diminutive trio: Márquez is the only player left out by coach Rikjaard and he is joined on the sidelines by the injured players Motta, Edmilson and Belletti. These absences would suggest that Rikjaard will go with a midfield line-up featuring the diminutive trio of Xavi, Deco and Iniesta. Thuram is expected to partner Puyol in the centre of defence. With Valdes in goal, the principal doubt in the starting XI concerns the wide players. Rikjaard has four players fighting for the two positions available: Gio, Zambrotta, Sylvinho and Oleguer.
Villarreal, with absences in attack: Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini will be without Chilean Matías Fernández and Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson. These two players arrived in the winter transfer window and have featured heavily since. Villarreal may start with Diego Forlán, Guille Franco and Robert Pires in attack. Frenchman Pires arrived last summer before suffering a serious knee injury. He has featured as a substitute in recent games and could make his debut in the starting XI versus Barça.
Precedents: This will be the eight time Barça have visited the Madrigal in the league. Up to now the balance is quite even with 3 wins each and 1 draw. The only draw was an incredible 4-4 in 2000-01. The goal difference is also quite balanced with Villarreal scoring 13 and Barça 11. In the most recent meeting last season, Barça secured a 0-2 win that put an end to a three-year spell without a win at the Madrigal Stadium.