Barcelona returned to winning ways with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao last weekend, and they must find their way to victory once again on Sunday against Villarreal to keep up the pressure on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
The Catalan giants currently sit five points adrift of Diego Simeone’s side at the top of the Spanish tree but will welcome Atletico to the Nou Camp in the final game of the season.
They must ensure, then, that they don’t slip up in the coming games to keep matters interesting in the race for the Spanish title, and job one sees them take on Villarreal, who have a mission of their own to focus on.
Venue: El Madrigal
Date: Sunday, April 27
Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET
TV Info: Sky Sports 1/beIN Sports 11
Lionel Messi Under Pressure
Arguably the greatest player ever to even look at a football, Messi has been heavily criticised this season for not setting La Liga alight in his usual fashion.
Per Soccerway, the Argentinian has scored 26 goals in 27 league matches this season, though he’s still been deemed a shadow of his former self by the media.
While looking at his goalscoring statistics may be impressive, his clear-cut chance-conversion rate is anything but, as WhoScored.com revealed:
Something does indeed appear to be affecting the 26-year-old; he’s been missing chances he usually gobbles up and vomiting before matches, and now he’s been linked with a move away from the Nou Camp.
However, his teammate Andres Iniesta believes that Messi is still the player he always was, and said that letting him go would be a big mistake for Barcelona—per El Mundo Deportivo (via Sky Sports):
"I have no doubts about Messi. He could not be better anywhere else other than here and Barca will not find another player like him."
Indeed, Messi is a unique talent, and everyone is praying that he finds form to once again thrill football fans with his remarkable style of play.
It’s a perfect time, then, for the four-time Ballon d’Or to come up against Villarreal—a team that he’s enjoyed playing against in recent years.
Per Transfermarkt, Messi has scored six goals in his last five matches against the Yellow Submarine, made up of three braces.
Villarreal, though, will look to thwart Messi’s efforts as their quest for a place in Europe continues. Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side is just two points adrift of the all-important sixth spot and could sense an upset against the out-of-sorts Barca.
It’s been a La Liga season to remember for most, but possibly one to forget for Messi. With Barcelona looking like going without silverware and the Argentinian being constantly criticised, seeing the back of the campaign could be a great feeling.
However, Messi isn’t the type of player to just lie down. He will come back fighting, as always, and El Madrigal may play host to Messi’s first steps towards restoring his immortal football status.
Key Stats and Prediction (Statistics via WhoScored.com)
Barcelona have won six of their last seven in all competitions and have a strong record against Sunday’s opposition.
Villarreal have avoided defeat just once in their last six matches against Barcelona in all competitions and lost the reverse fixture 2-1 at the Nou Camp thanks to a Neymar brace.
Villarreal have won just one of their last four La Liga matches, scoring just two goals in the process.
In the five games that Garcia Toral’s side has played against La Liga’s top three this season, it has drawn two and lost three.
Barcelona have lost their last two away games in all competitions, going down to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League before being humbled away to Granada in La Liga.
Villarreal will be fighting for the sixth spot with all of their might but will come up against a strong Barcelona side that will undoubtedly dictate the tempo of the game.
If the visitors can perfect their passing game and work the openings for Messi, then it could be a routine away victory.
Prediction: Villarreal 1-3 Barcelona