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Three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Villarreal | La Liga

After a series of away games on their gruelling calendar, a tired and defeated Barcelona return to the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys on Saturday. The men in garnet-and-blue lost the race in two competitions in just ten days and are now on the cusp of a trophyless season.

Regular action in La Liga restarts this weekend for Xavi’s men, who are set to host Villarreal tomorrow. The last time the two sides met this season, a seven-goal thriller unfolded where Robert Lewandowski’s 71st-minute strike gave Barça the win.

Five months later, Villarreal are starting one of their worst seasons in recent times in the eye. They languish in 15th place on the league standings with 11 losses to their name and will look to amp up the pressure on an out-of-form Barcelona.

Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Villarreal.

A much-needed birthday present

The last 48 hours have been difficult for Xavi Hernandez, no doubt. The Barcelona manager has come under intense scrutiny after his team’s elimination from the Copa del Rey, and debates have sparked on social media on how far he can be held accountable for the same.

Pressure has been building on the coach for a long time now, but the cup defeat leaves one with the feeling that he does not have much time to correct his mistakes if they are indeed his. In fact, his press conference ahead of tomorrow’s clash was filled with questions surrounding his future.

Xavi, who turned 44 just yesterday, has perhaps not seen many worse ways to welcome a new year in his life.

A win against Villarreal tomorrow may not ease the pressure on his shoulders. It may not go a long way in undoing the current situation Barça are in. Yet, it is the least he deserves on his birthday as the manager of the club he has given his life for.

Ronald Araujo came out after the defeat to Athletic Club in support of Xavi, maintaining that the dressing room was still happy with the manager. The onus of gifting their coach a win, and a good night’s sleep, thus falls on the dressing room tomorrow.

New full-backs

Hector Fort set for his first La Liga appearance. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It has been a rough couple of months for Barcelona across all competitions, and Alejandro Balde’s injury in the last game only furthers their worries.

The young defender was taken off midway through the first half against Athletic Club and replaced with Hector Fort at left-back. Subsequent tests revealed an injury to his hamstring that requires surgical intervention, thus ruling the player out of action for the rest of the campaign.

With Marcos Alonso out for at least the next month as well, Xavi has no natural left-backs available at his disposal. The onus, thus, will be on him to work around a solution.

The most obvious solution, as it appears, would be to shift Joao Cancelo to the left-back position. The Portuguese international is expected to be fit for tomorrow’s clash and has shown impressive displays when deployed on the left side of the field this season.

The right-back position will likely be awarded to young Fort who impressed the management and fans alike with his well-oiled performance in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal.

With a new full-back pairing taking over, possibly for the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see how the team’s dynamic plays out on the field. After all, the full-backs are essential in Barcelona’s possession-based style of football.

Time for the bold decision?

Several players have come under scrutiny for Barcelona’s poor performances in recent months. Yet, there is no player who has been vocally called out as much as Robert Lewandowski.

The Polish striker made a strong start to life at Barcelona after he arrived at the club, winning the Pichichi trophy in his first season in Spain. This term, however, he has been below his usual standards.

While Lewandowski may have scored a few goals of late, his overall contributions to Barcelona on the field have been on the decline. His killer instinct in the final third has fizzled out, his first touches are almost always imperfect and he no longer contributes to the buildup with his off-the-ball movement.

In his last three starts, he has managed just 14, 12, and 20 passes attempted respectively despite playing the majority of the game.

There comes a point where the manager decides to pull the plug, and it could well be that time in Barcelona. With his job at stake and the team’s performance deteriorating rapidly, Xavi could look to hand one of Marc Guiu or Vitor Roque the start in the hope that they outperform the senior superstar.

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