Could Karl Toko Ekambi end Barcelona’s unbeaten run?

Getty Images
The Cameroon forward is in fine form heading into Villarreal’s decisive showdown with the league leaders on Tuesday
The odds are firmly stacked against Villarreal when they host Barcelona at La Ceramica on Tuesday evening.

The league leaders are currently 10 points clear of Atletico Madrid and are in excellent form, having won their last seven in all competitions.

They’re unbeaten since January 23rd—a Copa del Rey defeat by Sevilla—and haven’t lost in their last 14 matches in all competitions.

In the top flight, that run stretches even further; Barcelona haven’t lost since November 11, and a memorable 4-3 home reverse at the hands of Real Betis.

They’re unbeaten in 17 in La Liga, and will be overwhelming favourites to extend that run on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi Barcelona 2018-19

Even more concerning for the Yellow Submarine, they’re not won a game in their last 19 top-flight showdowns with the Catalan giants, losing 14 during that run.

Indeed, they’ve lost each of their last three games against the domestic heavyweights, and will come up against a Barca side in top form.

Such is the league leaders’ domestic dominance, that no side in any of Europe’s top five leagues can match their 17-game unbeaten run.

They also boast Lionel Messi in magnificent form, and the Argentine superstar may have his eye on two records should he guide Barca to victory in Castellon.

If he plays in a victory on Tuesday, he’ll overtake Iker Casillas as the player with the most out-right victories in the history of the Spanish top flight.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Espanyol 300319

At the time of writing, both players are tied on 334; it’s inevitable that Messi will set the record, and when he does, it’ll be hard to imagine someone outpacing him.

Could history be made on Tuesday?

Similarly, and even more concerningly for the Yellow Sub, no player has scored more against them in La Liga than Messi.

At the time of writing, the forward is tied on 13 goals—with Cristiano Ronaldo—scored against Villarreal, and having been involved in at least one goal in his last five games in the league against Javier Calleja’s side, appears primed to break that record sooner rather than later.

Finally, as if things weren’t bleak enough for the relegation battlers, no Liga manager has beaten them more times than Ernesto Valverde.

Ernesto Valverde Barcelona

He’s a man who knows how to sink El Submarino Amarillo, having done so on 10 previous occasions.

There’s little to inspire confidence in the 2008 Liga runners-up, even if their form has begun to improve after a run of one win in 17 earlier in the campaign.

They may be pinning their hopes on Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi, who has been critical to their recent form—three wins in six—and could be their best bet of an upset on Tuesday.

The former Angers man hasn’t enjoyed the easiest of maiden campaigns in Spain, after netting 17 in 37 in the French top flight last term.

He’s hit patches of form, following his summer move, and while he’s Villarreal’s top scorer with seven goals, he’s struggled for consistency.

Three in four in late September/early October was a false dawn, as he struck just once—in the rout of Rapid Vienna—in the next 12—and didn’t find the net in the league for three months from early October.

However, there are signs that he finally has the bit between his teeth.

Having not scored in eight home games, he’s embarked on a run of four goals in his last five  home games, finally displaying the kind of form that terrorised Ligue 1 defences last term.

Karl Toko Ekambi -  Villarreal

He struck in draws against Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao, and netted in the 3-0 victory over Sevilla in mid-February as Villarreal ended their three-month wait for a league win.

His best performance came earlier this month, in the 3-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano, netting twice as Villarreal pulled clear of the dropzone.

That was followed up by another outstanding showing—a goal and an assist—in the 3-2 defeat by Celta, as Villarreal suffered a significant setback in their battle to beat the drop.

The loss leaves them only one point above their rivals Celta, who, ahead of a meeting against bottom-club SD Huesca in midweek, will be expecting to move back above Villarreal before the weekend’s games.

Toko Ekambi, who has firmly found his goalscoring boots and will be refreshed after sitting out the international break due to suspension, has the opportunity to end his maiden Villarreal season on a high.

Downing mighty Barca would be the ideal way to set up for a strong finale to what has been a testing campaign.