Villarreal v Barca: Marcelino looking for first Catalan win

Spaniard Marcelino has gone head-to-head with Barca 11 times during his career and has yet to chalk up a victory over the Catalan giant, with just two draws to show from those encounters.

barcelona - Cropped

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar

Villarreal head coach Marcelino will have to do something he has failed to do in 11 previous attempts if his side is to end Barcelona's record unbeaten run at El Madrigal on Sunday.

Spaniard Marcelino has gone head-to-head with Barca 11 times during his career and has yet to chalk up a victory over the Catalan giant, with just two draws to show from those encounters. Moreover, recent history is firmly on Barcelona's side.

Villarreal, nicknamed the Yellow Submarine, has failed to beat Barca in its past 13 Liga matches, losing the last five. Barca's last defeat at El Madrigal came in 2007 and Luis Enrique's men are on a 38-match unbeaten run in all competitions - surpassing the previous best in Spanish football of 34 set by Real Madrid.

That sensational form has left Barcelona well on course to replicate its treble-winning 2014-15 campaign, as it holds an eight-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga, while also looking forward to the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla in May.

Barca was at its clinical best to defeat Arsenal 3-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday, with its extraordinary triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all on the scoresheet in a win that secured a 5-1 aggregate victory. The trio have now combined for 106 goals in all competitions this season, and their reward for beating Arsenal was an all-Liga quarter-final with Atletico.

The odds may be stacked against a Villarreal side that is winless in its past three league matches, including a 4-2 defeat against Sevilla last time out in La Liga. Despite that reverse, Villarreal remains fourth - the final Champions League qualification spot - and enjoys a five-point cushion over fifth-placed Sevilla with nine games remaining.

Prior to losing its last two Liga matches, Villarreal went 14 games unbeaten in the top flight and it has defeated both Real Madrid and Atletico at El Madrigal this season.

Marcelino's men can also take confidence from their progression to the last eight of the Europa League, a goalless draw at Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday securing a 2-0 aggregate victory.

That match saw goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo make a comeback after 11 months on the sidelines with a serious knee injury and the 26-year-old expressed his delight at making a long-awaited return.

"I am very satisfied," he told Villarreal's official website. "I have worked hard to reach this level. Not in my wildest dream did I expect a comeback in a big European game and complete it with flying colours. Now, I want to keep making things as difficult as possible for the coach, because I want to prove to everyone that I am still the best."

Barca received a fitness boost of its own in the week, with Rafinha given the green light to resume training after six months out with a knee problem.

 

Key Opta stats

- Neymar has scored seven goals against Villarreal – against no side has he scored more often in all competitions for Barcelona (also has seven versus Athletic Bilbao). 
- Lionel Messi assisted three goals in a single La Liga game in Barcelona's last match (6-0 v Getafe) – the first time he has ever done this in the competition. 
- Barca has secured 12 wins in a row in La Liga and they have not gone on a run of 13 or more under a single manager since 2010-11 with Pep Guardiola in charge (16 wins in a row). 
- Villarreal has lost its last two league games and it has not lost three in a row since March 2012. 

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