Villarreal head coach Marcelino will have to do something he has failed to do in 11 previous attempts if his side are 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 giants, with just two draws to show from those encounters.
Moreover, recent history is firmly on Barcelona’s side.
Villarreal, nicknamed the Yellow Submarine, have failed to beat Barca in their 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 them well on course to replicate their treble-winning 2014-15 campaign, with Barca holding an eight-point lead from Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga, while they will also contest the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla in May.
Barca were at their clinical best to defeat Arsenal 3-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday, with their 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 are winless in their past three league matches, including a 4-2 defeat against Sevilla last time out in La Liga.
Despite that reverse, Villarreal remain fourth – the final Champions League qualification spot – and enjoy a five-point cushion over fifth-placed Sevilla with nine games remaining.
Prior to losing their last two Liga matches, Villarreal went 14 games unbeaten in the top flight and they have 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 their 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 have 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 have lost their last two league games and they have not lost three in a row since March 2012.