Barcelona continued their unbeaten streak since losing to Sevilla several weeks ago with a huge win against Villarreal on Sunday. Do not let the 3-0 scoreline fool you into thinking it was easy. The Yellow Submarine brought the fight to the hosts, but the Blaugrana were just too good in the second half and were able to pick up the victory thanks to another goal-scoring performance from Luis Suárez and especially Neymar Jr, who stole the show with one of the most beautiful goals we've seen.
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Luis Enrique once again rotated the squad and started a whole different defensive apart from Dani Alves, with Claudio Bravo, Gerard Piqué, Jérémy Mathieu and Jordi Alba coming back to the side after a midweek rest. Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Andrés Iniesta were together again, with Suárez and Neymar being joined by Munir in the attacking trio.
Villarreal started a couple of former Blaugranes in Jonathan dos Santos and Denis Suárez. The visitors lined up in a tight 4-1-4-1 formation designed to crowd the midfield and stop Barça from creating chances in the middle, as well as using speed on the wings to take advantage of eventual counter-attacking opportunites.
That made the first half hard for the hosts, who had trouble trying to get around that tight defense and a parked bus. But the Yellows would also press high sometimes, and attempt quick and direct moves with forwards Castillejo and Soldado, who both had a few dangerous opportunites themselves. But for the most part, it was the usual Camp Nou game with a high-possession Barça attempting to break down a very compact and disciplined outfit. Mario Gaspar and Jonathan closed down hard on Neymar, which made it difficult for the Brazilian to do damage. Luis Suárez had a few shots in the initial minutes, but also struggled to find spaces in the middle of the defense.
Andrés Iniesta was the better of the attacking players on the pitch, using his passing and dribbling skills to try and create a few chances. His most dangerous play was a beautiful left-footed cross that was just a little too high for Munir to head the ball home. The best play of the half, however, came with Mathieu, who made a surprising run to the box and had a good shot on goal, but goalkeeper Areola made a very good save to keep the score intact.
At the end of the half, no goals and the need of a better game from the Blaugrana. Thankfully, it happened.
The locker room talk at halftime between coaches and players were certainly beneficial and showed immediate results. We saw a more intense side who played at a faster pace with better off-ball movement from everyone involved. Neymar found ways to get rid of the double coverage and saw more of the ball by moving away from the left side and joining the midfielders. Dani Alves was given a lot more freedom to push forward and stretch the pitch to find holes in the middle of Villarreal's defense. Sergi Roberto, who had a quiet first half, came back a lot more active and contributed to the high pressing attempted in the initial portion of the final period.
That pressing resulted in Barça getting the ball back close to the opposing box, and Sergio Busquets played an amazing through ball to Neymar, who showed composure to finish and score the opening goal for the Blaugranes. Barça did not stop and almost found another goal with Dani Alves' shot being saved by Areola at the goal line.
Coach Marcelino of Villarreal was not content with the loss and then sent his team to the attacking with forward Bakambu coming in for a defensive midfielder. That opened up plenty of space for Barça's vicious counter-attacks, and the first one led to good results. Sergi Roberto carried the ball and passed it to Munir, who was quicker to the ball than left-back Jaume Costa, who made a dumb decision to challenge the play and foul the young forward inside the box. Easy, clear penalty that the referee did not miss. In a bit of a shocking development, current taker Neymar gave the ball to Suárez, and the Uruguayan did not disappoint his teammate and buried home the second goal.
With a two-score cushion, Barça naturally went to damage control mode, keeping the ball and dictating the play thanks to another sensational game by Busquets and precise passing from Iniesta and Roberto. Villarreal put another attacker in but were not able to bring any danger to Barça's solid defending, and once again gave plenty of space for Neymar and Suárez to counter-attack. They did, and the most amazing play of the match happened.
After the Brazilian won a header that ignited a fast-break, Luisito gave a soft pass back to Neymar, who pulled off an improbable and phenomenal flick to get past his defender, and then finished the move with a powerful right-footed shot to score the best goal of the season so far. The leading goalscorer in La Liga had another trademark goal, closing the show and another important, key Barça win.
These are good times. Now we have two weeks to get Rakitic and Messi healthy, and then after the international break, we'll play El Clásico at Bernabéu against Real Madrid. Here we go.
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