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La Liga: Villarreal CF 0-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A comprehensive, blow-by-blow recap of Barcelona's hard-fought 1-0 win over Villarreal CF at El Madrigal on Sunday evening, as Sandro's late winner was enough to secure the three points

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

FC Barcelona didn’t always have it their own way on Sunday evening at El Madrigal, but ultimately, it wasn’t to matter as the Blaugrana emerged victorious courtesy of substitute Sandro’s late winner after another moment of magic from Lionel Messi. Villarreal had worked hard all game, making countless interventions and blocks to apparently steal a point from their title-chasing visitors, only for Messi to make the difference with time wearing down. It wasn’t a vintage performance, nor was it always pretty, but it’s three points all the same.






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Luis Enrique made two changes to the side that defeated Elche CF 3-0 last weekend, both forced, as Javier Mascherano dropped out of the starting line-up as to serve his suspension for last week’s red card while Andrés Iniesta had to miss the trip to El Madrigal through injury. That meant a recall for Gerard Piqué, who missed the win over Elche serving a suspension of his own, and a first start of the season for Pedro, who missed out on a starting berth in the campaign opener as he recovered from illness.

Of course, Pedro wasn’t about to drop into midfield, so Lucho was forced to switch it up a little; Rafinha Alcântara dropped back into midfield as he was favoured ahead of Xavi Hernández – and Munir was also handed his second start with the senior squad after his debut goal, meaning that the returning Neymar would have to settle for a place on the bench. Clearly, Luis Enrique had a gameplan in mind; could the Blaugrana implement that gameplan and retain their 100% record?


The early signs were encouraging; Barcelona started the match promisingly, monopolising possession and forcing the Villarreal rearguard into action. For the most part, Villarreal were equal to Barça’s attacks but the warning signs were there. Barcelona were retrieving possession almost immediately after losing it, meaning there was no real end to this spell of early pressure, and with the likes of Munir, Lionel Messi and Dani Alves on the field, the Blaugrana had attacking talent in abundance.

Having failed to clear their lines following a corner from Ivan Rakitić, Villarreal couldn’t close down Munir el Haddadi, who tried his luck with an effort from long-range as he met the loose ball just outside the Villarreal area. Moments later, Lionel Messi was allowed just enough time and space to test Sergio Asenjo with a snapshot – thankfully for Marcelino’s side, Messi’s effort was right at the former Atletico Madrid shot-stopper.

Still, the early barrage continued. A low cross from the impressive Dani Alves prompted an excellent last-ditch intervention from Mateo Musacchio, just as Munir looked ready to pull the trigger and convert this golden chance.

At the other end, despite being stretched by the demands of Enrique’s high-pressure system, the Barça defense was looking strong and holding firm. Villarreal opted to drop their main striker Ikechukwu Uche in favour of a more dynamic, counter-attack orientated frontline led by former Barça starlet, Giovani dos Santos and naturally, this meant that the Yellow Submarine had the tools to theoretically trouble the Blaugrana backline. Running between the lines, Real Madrid loanee Denis Cheryshev looked bright, but Gerard Piqué was forcing him wide, where Jeremy Mathieu was often on hand to snuff out the danger.

It was that fluidity, both defensively and offensively, that was so encouraging about Luis Enrique’s new-look Barça – everyone seemed to be everywhere, in the sense that they all knew where they needed to be at any given time, in any given scenario.

The hunger to retain and regain possession was also evident; Lionel Messi’s hard work in midfield won the ball back just inside the Villarreal half, and this turnover ensured that the hosts’ backline was a little more chaotic than usual. With a little more space in which to operate, Pedro was the beneficiary; played through on goal by a great pass from Messi, Pedro forced a good save from Asenjo with a powerful effort across goal. Barcelona were getting closer...

Villarreal appeared content to bide their time. In spite of their possession, Barcelona were not creating as many clear-cut chances as they might have hoped, and Marcelino knew that his side could thrive on the counter-attack.

The only trouble was, whenever they forced a turnover from the Barça attack, they simply couldn’t capitalise. While they created one-on-one opportunities for their forwards up against the Barcelona defense, Piqué in particular looked to be in imperious form, emasculating Cheryshev with a highlight-reel sliding challenge as the Russian attempted to enter the opposition half around the 18 minute mark.

Indeed, in every aspect of the game, Barcelona seemed to be in control. That is, until Villarreal earned themselves a corner kick.

Having failed to cause any significant problems from their first, more orthodox corner, Villarreal opted for something a little smarter. It really was a move from the training ground – the corner was taken short and swung in at the second time of asking where Bruno flicked it on to find Victor Ruiz in space at the back-post. The goal was gaping, it seemed like a sure-fire opener – but Ruiz couldn’t control the ball or a first-time shot and the chance went begging.

Barça responded in kind with a chance of their own; Messi surged forward for the first time in the game with some real space ahead of him, and selflessly opted to play it out wide to Pedro. The Spaniard dropped a shoulder, tried to take on his man and was felled in the area. The referee however was unmoved by his protests and play continued.

Minutes later, an accidental clip of the heels by Cani on Alves gifted Barcelona their first free-kick of the night, and despite its position near the corner of the penalty area, this was definitely in "Messi range". Sure enough, Messi did try his luck on goal and very nearly succeeded in spectacular fashion, only for Asenjo to palm the ball onto the post before Villarreal scrambled the ball out of danger.

Closer again, but Barça still didn’t have a goal to show for their efforts.

With the final ball somewhat lacking, the frustration was growing in the Barcelona camp. After a loose touch presented Villarreal with a chance to counter a corner kick, Pedro was a little over-exuberant in his attempt to regain possession and picked up the game’s first yellow card for his troubles. Rakitić and Alves threatened to join him just moments later as Rakitić’s ill-timed challenge prompted groans of dissent from the Brazilian full-back, but the referee was lenient and the pair escaped without further punishment.

This wasn’t the time for Barcelona to lose their heads though; they had to keep calm, keep plugging away and eventually their hard work would pay dividends. Alves, as ever, didn’t get that memo and took an issue with the referee after a non-call on the offensive end left him nursing a knock on his hip, earning him a yellow for dissent.

Deservedly, after an opening period of hard-work and disciplined play, Villarreal entered the interval level. They had covered more ground, actually conceded fewer fouls and the odd moment aside, had never looked too troubled by the Barça attack. Even at this early stage of the season, a crucial 45 minutes awaited FC Barcelona.


It that seems negative, it isn’t. Through 135 minutes of La Liga action, new signing Claudio Bravo was yet to make a single save – so much for the whole "shaky Barcelona defense" narrative. At the other end, sure, there were aspects that could have been better but on the whole, it was an adequate display. With a little more movement and with options like Neymar off the bench, there was still plenty of time for Barcelona to pick up the victory they so desperately craved.

To their credit, Villarreal started the second half well. Cheryshev again was at the forefront of their attacks and his pace down the left-flank was causing problems. So too was Cani, whose low cross into the Barça six-yard box looked dangerous. Mathieu couldn’t leave it – so he threw out an out-stretched leg and diverted it clear. Well, as clear as he could, which turned out to be onto the frame of his own goal. Bravo collected the loose ball, and all was well. A scare of course, but nothing more.

After an impressive competitive debut last weekend, Munir was looking quiet. Pedro had been ineffective – when would Lucho roll the dice and throw Neymar into the action? With ten minutes gone in the second period, Neymar had started his warm-up, signed a couple of autographs and returned to the bench; but still there was no sign of him entering the fray at El Madrigal.

Villarreal continued to defend as they did in the first-half; sitting back, absorbing pressure and directing the Barcelona play out wide for the full-backs to throw in aimless crosses. Enrique had seen enough – it was time for Neymar.

Munir was the man who made way; he had worked hard, but had very few touches of the ball and generally struggled to get involved with the play. Neymar was on to rectify that and he did so immediately. Combining with Messi, Neymar played the ball into space for Ivan Rakitić to fire in a low cross, forcing a hurried clearance from the Villarreal defense. Suddenly, the tempo had been upped another gear or two; would an opening goal follow suit?

With the game still tied at 0-0, Villarreal also had one eye on the prize. Cheryshev had worked incredibly hard and looked bright in attack, but after a little more than an hour, Marcelino made a change – off went the Madridista and on came an Argentine talent in the shape of young Luciano Vietto. The forward grabbed a brace in his midweek debut against FC Astana of Kazakhstan, surely he couldn’t follow up with another goal against FC Barcelona?

Only time would tell, but for the moment, attentions turned back to another Argentine – Lionel Messi – who appeared to have had enough with the rough play of the Villarreal midfield, Voicing his frustrations at the referee after yet another foul, Messi nearly curled the resulting free-kick into the top corner of Asenjo’s net, prompting an incredible save from the Spanish keeper. Messi then rose highest from the corner, but couldn’t direct his free header on target.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner then turned creator for Neymar, as Messi’s low cross caused an almighty scare in the Villarreal backline and a jaw-dropping goal-line block from Victor Ruiz who put his body on the line to deny Neymar.

With the Blaugrana still searching for that opener, Lucho made his second change of the night. Off went Pedro, on came Barça B forward Sandro, who we all know is capable of grabbing a goal or two. Villarreal were tiring – but still they had enough to continue denying the Barça attack. Another block, this time on a shot from Sandro before another last-ditch intervention as Neymar tried to pull the trigger.

They were doing everything in their power to keep the Blaugrana out, and at the other end, Tomas Pina came agonisingly close to grabbing a shock opener. His shot from the edge of the area had Claudio Bravo beaten, only to rattle the frame of the goal. End-to-end stuff at El Madrigal, and yet the two teams were still tied at 0-0.

Enter Xavi.

When the final ball has been lacking, who better to bring off the bench than a club legend, current club captain and all-round superstar in Xavi? Rafinha made way, perhaps liberating Rakitić to venture a little further forward in the process.

Xavi’s intelligence was a sore sight for the weary legs of the Villarreal defense, stretching the play Xavi found Rakitić in space on the left for a low cross. While that didn’t result in a chance, it did find Alves at the back-post who in turn found Messi for a shot at goal. Cue another block from Bruno and the Villarreal defense.

For the hosts, it was ten minutes left to endure. For the visitors, time was swiftly running out for that elusive winning goal. The script seemed to be the same – cross, chance, block – and then suddenly, Messi tore it up. He’d had enough of the blocks, the last-ditch challenges and saves. Beating the offside trap with a smart run, Messi was through; he feigned one way, then back towards the touchline and stabbed the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs. Was it going in? Sandro made sure by bundling the ball into the back of the net.

It might have taken in excess of 80 minutes, but Barça were finally on the board.

Villarreal weren’t going to accept their fate though; there was still work to be done. A nervy moment after another corner saw Giovani come close to an equaliser, but all in all, Barcelona’s defense was stepping up. Whenever a mistake was made, Villarreal followed suit with one of their own. A moment of madness from Mathieu gifted Vietto with a good chance on goal, but the inexperienced Argentine blazed the ball well wide of the target.

Things might not have always gone to plan tonight, but Barcelona pushed on regardless. They worked hard, persevered and had their rewards – a valuable three points at one of the toughest grounds in Spanish football. What more could you ask for?

With the international break looming, Barcelona’s next fixture comes in 13 days time, when Athletic Bilbao visit the Camp Nou. Until then, Visca el Barça!

Roll Call Info
Total comments 739
Total commenters 51
Commenter list AH_Diddlez, AL_LM10, Anders Thomassen, Anirudh_Kul, Antonio Moreira, AristoBarca, Artemis11, Aveblaugrana, Barcacatalunya, Barcathebest360, BartraFTW, Bostjan Cernensek, Cule4life, FCBRojas, FooFooNinja91, Harshiv, Imalwaysofftopic, Inder Methil, Jake07, Jigish, Lapulga, MMcCoy11_FCB, NoImagination90, OctopusOfBadia, Pranav Balakrishnan, Renato Goncalves, Ruy Diaz, Silverscoper, Steven Cordero, Team Rocket, ThreePar, Tokjee, ade fox, craig00000, feeya7, gimme alredy, jackpiratecaptain, khanhung.tran, milesbarca, mr.hugh.hefna, msalmanz, nolet, oddsbodiSkins, rnmrqz, robyn_bird96, shubham2806, syredeathtrooper, tilak, uday kakoti, user2468, ᏣᎧᎿᏒᎭᎳᎧᎢᎣᏯᏫ
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 Team Rocket 110
2 Barcacatalunya 99
3 Artemis11 95
4 Bostjan Cernensek 72
5 AristoBarca 35
6 Silverscoper 28
7 craig00000 24
8 Jake07 21
9 Anirudh_Kul 20
10 Barcathebest360 19
11 MMcCoy11_FCB 19
12 oddsbodiSkins 19
13 user2468 19
14 Anders Thomassen 14
15 tilak 11
16 Inder Methil 10
17 Steven Cordero 10
18 Pranav Balakrishnan 9
19 Antonio Moreira 8
20 Lapulga 8
21 FooFooNinja91 8
22 syredeathtrooper 7
23 AH_Diddlez 6
24 feeya7 6
25 khanhung.tran 5
26 nolet 4
27 robyn_bird96 4
28 gimme alredy 4
29 BartraFTW 4
30 jackpiratecaptain 3
31 ThreePar 3
32 milesbarca 3
33 Harshiv 3
34 Renato Goncalves 3
35 AL_LM10 2
36 Imalwaysofftopic 2
37 Aveblaugrana 2
38 FCBRojas 2
39 shubham2806 2
40 msalmanz 2
41 mr.hugh.hefna 2
42 Cule4life 2
43 Tokjee 2
44 Ruy Diaz 1
46 rnmrqz 1
47 uday kakoti 1
48 OctopusOfBadia 1
49 ade fox 1
50 Jigish 1
51 NoImagination90 1

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