By 90Min
December 10, 2017

La Liga leaders Barcelona are set to be without three first-team stars as they travel to Villarreal on Sunday evening, with Andres Iniesta, Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano all unavailable for selection through injury. 

Iniesta was absent during Barca's 2-0 Champions League win over Sporting Lisbon in midweek, but it was hoped that he could make a full recovery in time for their weekend clash. However, the midfielder remains sidelined after struggling to overcome the muscular issue. 

Alongside Iniesta will be Umtiti and Mascherano, who are both also suffering from muscle problems, with the former not scheduled to be back in action until mid-February. 

The 24-year-old's unavailability will likely see forgotten-man Thomas Vermaelen make only his second start in the league this season, after recording his first taste of on-field action in a Barcelona shirt since March 2016 late last month. 

However, one unforced absence will be that of Gerard Deulofeu, who has seen his play time decrease consistently over the past few weeks. 

The former Everton man, who re-joined the Catalans for around £10.8m during the summer, has failed to claim a place in boss Ernesto Valverde's starting line-up since mid-October, and with the 23-year-old struggling to break into the side even with big-money signing Ousmane Dembele not even in contention, the future does not look bright for the Spaniard at the Camp Nou. 

Barcelona head into Sunday's clash attempting to find their first win in the league this month, after two consecutive draws with Valencia and Celta Vigo offering the opportunity for the chasing pack to make up some ground. 

But the La Liga toppers will gain comfort in the knowledge that Villarreal are also suffering on the injury front, with six ruled out, but Valverde is still expecting a tough test. 

"We have to take into account what they will do to solve their injury problems but I'm sure they will try and play as they always do and will want the ball and try to put us under pressure", the Barca coach told a news conference on Saturday, as quoted by Spanish news outlet AS.

"I'm sure they'll try and play that way against us too even though they might take one or two precautions."

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