x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Barcelona enjoy luxury of keeping David Villa on the bench

On the eve of the season's first El Clasico, Barcelona's embarrassment of attacking riches means the prolific Spaniard must be content with life as a substitute.

David Villa has found his first-team opportunities limited under Tito Vilanova. Javier Soriano / AFP
David Villa has found his first-team opportunities limited under Tito Vilanova. Javier Soriano / AFP
The player with the best goals-to-minutes ratio in Spain this season is likely to start on the bench in tonight's clasico at Camp Nou.

That forward is not Barcelona's Lionel Messi, nor Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. They are likely to head the Pichichi top scorer table at the end of the season and the man with the best ratio is usually among the top scorers, but he is not getting the starts he needs to truly compete.

He was the top scorer in the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup, he is Spain's all-time leading goalscorer with 52 goals too, yet he has started just one league game from six so far.

For the first time in his career, David Villa is getting used to life on the bench. He can still make a difference - when he gets on the pitch. In just 95 minutes of league action so far, Villa has scored three times, the last at Sevilla a week ago when Barca came from 2-1 down in the 88th minute to win 3-2 thanks to Messi and then an injury-time Villa goal.

The Asturian came off the bench for Spain in their recent friendly against Saudi Arabia. He scored in that match too.

Villa may be super, but he doesn't want to be a super sub. The 31 year old has found himself marginalised since returning from breaking his leg last December in the Club World Cup in Japan. Football can be cruel and unsentimental and when he returned, he found that Pep Guardiola, the man who bought him, had left. His replacement, Tito Vilanova, speaks well of Villa but has been reluctant to start him.

Even the biggest players find that they are in the shadows when they join Barca. Henrik Larsson, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were huge stars at Celtic, Arsenal and Inter Milan respectively, yet they had to adjust to life away from the spotlight at Camp Nou.

There were bigger names and better players. All of them had to play out of their best positions. All claimed they were fine that with that, but it was clear they were not.

Villa played more of a starring role following his ?40 million (Dh191.4m) transfer from Valencia in 2010, scoring 23 goals in 51 appearances in his first season for Barcelona. Messi was still the main man, but Villa was a success and finished the season with a goal in the Champions League final against Manchester United - precisely the games he said he wanted to play in to justify his move from Valencia.

Villa prefers to play centrally as a No 9, but that is a space occupied by Messi and so he had to get used to playing on the right. He now faces increased competition from several players such as Alexis Sanchez and Pedro, while Cesc Fabregas is also now preferred to him in a central attacking role alongside Messi.

If he switches to the left there are other younger options for Vilanova.

Villa has been frustrated with developments and exchanged words with Messi in a recent game, but don't read too deeply into that as the pair get on well. Villa just wants to get on the pitch more. Another goal in tonight's clasico will enhance his case further.


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