BARCELONA (Reuters) - La Liga leaders Barcelona will be without their captain Andres Iniesta for Sunday's trip to Villarreal after the midfielder failed to recover from a muscle strain.
Barca are also missing central defenders Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano, meaning Thomas Vermaelen is likely to make his second Liga start of the campaign as the Catalans eye a first win in three games following draws with Valencia and Celta Vigo.
Villarreal have had inconsistent results this season, which led to them sacking coach Fran Escriba in September. They won four of their first five games under his successor Javi Calleja but have drawn one and lost two of their last three.
Calleja's side have six players out injured, including Colombia striker Carlos Bacca and key forward Samu Castillejo.
"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," Barca coach Valverde told a news conference on Saturday.
"I'm sure they'll try and play that way against us too even though they might take one or two precautions."
Barca have not won in their last two league visits to Villarreal and only escaped with a 1-1 draw last season thanks to a free-kick strike from Lionel Messi in stoppage-time.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)