Barcelona would be wise to rest Suarez and not risk MSN ahead of El Clasico
Despite Barcelona achieving a historical Treble last season, Luis Enrique's side have become even more dominant in his second year in charge. Physically stronger, more mature and with an improved understanding of the Asturian manager's formation, Barca, unbeaten in 38 matches, are an unstoppable winning machine.
Although the partnership between Lionel Messi, Neymar and, particularly, Luis Suarez was in its infancy last year, the three went on to score a combined 122 goals in their first season together at the Camp Nou. The South American stars' close relationship off the pitch definitely had a huge impact on their success; their connection became stronger as the season developed. Their outstanding contribution resulted in Barca conquering a fully deserved Treble that has already secured its place in history.
Encouragingly, the MSN trident have been determined to surpass their previous record from the very moment the ball started rolling in their second year together. Their impressive success at both collective and individual level, rather than bring any shade of complacency, made Barca's front three even more determined to bring further silverware to the Camp Nou museum.
Far more able to read each other's movements and predict their teammates' decisions in possession, the partnership of Messi, Neymar and Suarez has now become an even more unstoppable force that causes rival managers and opposing defenders endless worries and sleepless nights.
Having already netted a combined 106 goals, the MSN trident are now a mere 16 behind last year's tally and are on track to beat their previous record comfortably. Their relentless approach to winning, unlimited talent and cold-hearted efficiency in front of goal are all key reasons why Barcelona are now the most feared opponent in world football.
Luis Enrique has plenty of big decisions to make on Sunday, as Villarreal become the latest team to try and halt Barcelona's incredible winning run.
Suarez, who has four yellow cards to his name in La Liga, would miss El Clasico against Real Madrid on April 2 if he is booked against Villarreal. While it could be argued that the No. 9 should be able to go a full 90 minutes without being shown a card, most would agree that tempting fate is never a good idea. The risk of losing such an integral player for the decisive clash against Los Blancos is not worth taking.
Barca currently enjoy a comfortable 12-point advantage over Madrid at the top of the La Liga table. While such a significant difference would normally indicate that the Blaugrana should win El Clasico even in the absence of Suarez, it would be naive to consider the clash against Los Blancos as "just another game." The endless passion, huge anticipation and worldwide attention that the biggest game in world football generates simply can't be overlooked and, as a result, every precaution must be taken to ensure all stars are available to play it.
With the above in mind, Luis Enrique should certainly rest Suarez against Villarreal and include Munir El Haddadi in his starting XI instead.
Despite an incredibly poor start to his second season in Barca's first team, Munir has continued to work relentlessly in training, and therefore has been granted increasing playing time. Having scored six goals in six appearances in 2016, the La Masia graduate has visibly grown in confidence and is now a reliable, effective attacking alternative for Luis Enrique to trust whenever needed -- as should be the case against Villarreal on Sunday.
After being recently included in the Spanish squad for the first time, it will be interesting to see whether Sergi Roberto responds to Vicente Del Bosque's confidence with yet another convincing performance for Barca. The versatile La Masia graduate has been absolutely outstanding this season and therefore fully deserves to be considered for a place in the upcoming European Championship. But in order to be granted a place in Spain's final 23-man squad, he needs to continue to deliver stellar performances for his club on a weekly basis.
Recent tests by the coaching staff indicate that, despite the gruelling schedule the players have had to endure this season, the vast majority of the Catalan squad are currently at fitness levels that are actually better than last year. While Barca's strength does not solely lie on their physicality, it is obvious that the manager's demands in terms of pressure when not in possession, constant combinations when in control and movement to create spaces does require a generous amount of effort from every single player to be successful.
Having said that, however, Luis Enrique should make the most of Roberto's stellar form to grant Sergio Busquets the much-needed rest he has been silently craving in recent times. Barca's second-most-used player has already added an astonishing 3,356 minutes of football to his tired legs this season and, as was increasingly clear during the 3-1 victory against Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday, is now in serious need of a chance to recharge his battery. Given his vital importance to the team's success, Busquets' health has to take priority.
In Villarreal, Barca are fully aware that they will be faced with a brave team who will not be afraid to push forward whenever possible, particularly given the fact that the game will be played in front of their devoted home crowd.
The Yellow Submarine's dynamic approach and well-organised defensive system has helped Barca defeat Real Madrid, Atletico, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla this season, so anyone expecting an easy ride for Barca on Sunday would be disappointed. The visitors will need buckets of patience and their very best, fluid football to come away with a victory from El Madrigal.