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La Liga: FC Barcelona 3-2 Villarreal CF: Match Review

A recap of Barcelona's impressive comeback victory over Villarreal at the Camp Nou, as goals from Neymar, Rafinha Alcantara and Lionel Messi secured an eighth successive win for the Blaugrana

David Ramos/Getty Images

FC Barcelona twice came from behind to claim an important three points and end Villarreal CF’s 18 match unbeaten streak with a 3-2 victory on a breathless night at the Camp Nou. Against the run of play, Denis Cheryshev opened the scoring for the visitors, with Neymar grabbing a deserved equaliser with the final kick of the first-half. A mistake from Gerard Piqué enabled Luciano Vietto to put Villarreal back ahead in the 50th minute, but Barça fought back and completed the turnaround with two goals in two minutes – the 53rd and 55th – from the outstanding Rafinha Alcântara and Lionel Messi.






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Luis Enrique made two changes to the side that defeated Atletico Madrid in midweek; Claudio Bravo returned in goal, as expected, while in midfield Rafinha Alcântara replaced Ivan Rakitić to make a somewhat surprise start ahead of both the Croatian and club captain, Xavi Hernández. That being said, not a single Culé would have been anxious about Rafinha’s inclusion; the Brazilian has been in impressive form this season and his presence would offer the Blaugrana a different dimension than they would usually have with Xavi or Rakitić.


Barcelona started the match well; full of confidence after their third victory over Atletico Madrid and seven successive wins in the month of January, Barça played with a certain arrogance and skill, barely even waiting for the end of the first minute to start creating chances. Lionel Messi set Luis Suarez free down the right-flank for the Uruguayan to win a corner with less than 60 seconds on the clock, and from the ensuing corner, Messi combined brilliantly with Neymar to draw audible gasps from the Camp Nou crowd.

There was no shot at the end of this move, but it was an encouraging start and we soon saw the first shot just moments later, as a poor clearance from another Barça corner prompted Luis Suarez to attempt an audacious overhead kick. His effort went just wide of the post, but seemed to suggest that it was going to be a good night for FC Barcelona. Villarreal were coping, but looked a little concerned; just how could they contend with Barça in this mood for the full 90 minutes?

This was jaw-dropping, globetrotter football from the Blaugrana – case in point, Jordi Alba’s attempted cross in the 8th minute. Receiving what is now a trademark Lionel Messi lofted through ball on the overlap down the left; Alba juggled the ball, once, twice, three times and sent in a cross with a bicycle kick. Audacious stuff once again from Barça, yet for all their tricks and flicks, they needed an end product to show for their superiority.

And would you believe it? Luis Suarez was the man looking most likely to provide that end product and opening Barcelona goal! A smart play instigated by Lionel Messi culminated in Rafinha playing an early low cross to find Luis Suarez unmarked on the edge of the area, and striking the ball first time, Suarez’ effort was destined for the top corner of the net until Sergio Asenjo clawed it away and around the post to safety. An incredible save off a great shot – more of the same please Luis.

The next chance came about ten minutes later; Barça were still looking sharp and were just operating too quickly for Villarreal to keep up. The consequence in this case was a particularly brutal challenge on Rafinha, right on the edge of the Villarreal penalty area. It was prime real estate for a free-kick on goal – perhaps favouring a right-footed player like Neymar, or maybe even Luis Suarez. Alas, Messi pulled rank and his rather tame effort was blocked well by the visiting defense.

Minutes later, another chance fell to Suarez and this time the former Liverpool striker treated us to the kind of finish we’ve come to expect from him – rushed and woefully off-target. If only some of these chances could fall to Messi, or to Neymar – maybe Barça would have claimed that opening goal that their play so richly deserved.

However, football isn’t as straight-forward as that; while Barça were clearly the better side, Villarreal were dangerous on the counter and given an opportunity, they took advantage. Well, when I say an opportunity, really there wasn’t much there. Barcelona were defending well, and Villarreal were reduced to resorting to long shots, like one from Mario Gaspar which was going well wide of the goal before Denis Cheryshev stuck out a leg and diverted the ball into the opposite corner.

Of course the Real Madrid loanee would be the one to break the deadlock...

Against the run of play, Barcelona were trailing. How would they react? Rarely have they gone behind this season at the Camp Nou and in one match where they did, against Celta Vigo, they have struggled to recover. Our attempt at an immediate response was a speculative free-kick that ended with a Dani Alves volley. Naturally, the shot from the Brazilian ended up high in the stands; Barcelona may have been playing well, but they needed their stars to get sight of goal – the Messi’s and Neymar’s in the team, because the others simply weren’t converting.

Credit has to go to Villarreal’s defense and to Sergio Asenjo for their performances; they were keeping Barcelona at bay, just as much as Suarez’ wastefulness was a factor. They were restricting the space for Messi and Neymar, but all it takes is one moment. One mistake, one missed assignment, and they will make you pay. Which is what happened with the last kick of the first-half.

Rafinha Alcântara can probably claim half an assist for this one – with space in the area, he unleashed arguably one of the best shots of the match from a Barcelona perspective, curling the ball towards the far corner with his "weaker" left foot. It was a fine effort – probably better than Suarez would have mustered given the same opportunity – and while it was tipped clear by Sergio Asenjo, Neymar was quickest to the rebound, converting into the empty net to tie the teams at 1-1.

Our performance merited at least that headed into the interval, and served to alleviate some of the pressure that we would have inevitably felt going in a goal behind at the break.


The second-half started in a similar vein to the first – Barcelona had the possession, Barcelona had the chances and were then stunned as Villarreal took the lead for the second time this evening. It was sloppy play from Gerard Piqué – uncharacteristically so given his recent run of good form and Giovani was clean through on goal. Piqué’s recovery forced the former Barça starlet out a little wider than he would have liked, but the Mexican cut inside and squared the ball selflessly to find Luciano Vietto for a tap-in.

It was a shock to the system, but if anything it only served to inspire and infuriate the hosts; spurred into action, Barça started their comeback. Within minutes, Rafinha Alcântara grabbed an equaliser. The front three were all involved, Neymar to Suarez, whose shot was blocked by the onrushing Asenjo, with the ball spiralling up for Messi to head at goal. That was also blocked, but eventually the loose ball would fall kindly to another Blaugrana shirt – Rafinha, who hit his volley hard and high into the roof of the net.

The Camp Nou erupted; as much as they appreciate the skills and the tricks, they love fighting spirit most of all and they were jumping onto their feet once again just moments later. Messi completed the turnaround. Just like in midweek, this team went behind and simply refused to take it. Turning it up a gear or two, they went into overdrive and blew Villarreal away with a dazzling three minute display of sheer superiority and will power. Suarez was the creator, serving as a pivot on the edge of the Villarreal area to help on Alba’s pass and find Messi.

One touch to set himself, another to go for goal. Right-footed no less and straight into the top corner of the net. Picture perfect from the world’s best player, and Barça were ahead.

This was incredible entertainment, and somehow it just kept getting better. Victor Ruiz had a goal correctly ruled out for offside at one end around the 64 minute mark and within seconds, Barça had launched a successful appeal for the offside and Bravo had played a quick free-kick to start a counter-attack with Lionel Messi. Neymar was racing through in the centre and Messi found him, obviously, with a superb pass.

The Brazilian lifted the ball over Asenjo and was duly taken out by the onrushing Spaniard – the ball was cleared and somehow, someway the referee for the evening didn’t think that this was a penalty kick. Still, play continued and Barça nearly scored anyway – a ball across the mouth of the goal came to Suarez, but he couldn’t convert with his header. It was breathless stuff at the Camp Nou, and personally, I wasn’t sure who the end-to-end play favoured more.

Villarreal were creating chances, but Barcelona were incredibly dangerous on the counter-attack with more space to thrive. Only a tremendous last-ditch challenge from Mario Gaspar denied Neymar a good chance, and sooner than later, Barcelona would probably convert one of these opportunities.

The first change of the night was an interesting one: off went Sergio Busquets and on came Jeremy Mathieu, presumably to add a little pace to the backline, while adding Mascherano’s talents as a destroyer to our midfield. Thrown into a high-tempo match, Mathieu settled in nearly immediately and deserves credit for doing so in such a high-pressure situation. Pedro was the next to enter the action, replacing Luis Suarez while Neymar got a few instructions from Luis Enrique.

There were fewer clear-cut chances, but this match was still evenly-poised and rather tense. We’d seen how little of the ball Villarreal needed to pose a threat, so even prolonged periods of Blaugrana possession weren’t as calming as they perhaps usually would be. At the same time, it appeared as though Villarreal were tiring, they weren’t as threatening, they weren’t committing as many players forward with as much regularity and were finding themselves drifting back, retreating into a more defensive shape.

The final change saw one of the game’s best and most decisive players afforded a deserved ovation; off went Rafinha and on came Ivan Rakitić for a very brief cameo. It wasn’t to make much of a difference though; Barça had done enough to secure the three points and could claim a deserved victory from another good night’s work.

Next up, Barça have a rare midweek off, before travelling to the Basque Country to take on Athletic Bilbao. Until then, Visca el Barça!

Roll Call Info
Total comments 705
Total commenters 55
Commenter list Abdul95, Abohabiba, Anders Thomassen, Anirudh_Kul, AraibKarim, Ayush Tiwari, Bostjan Cernensek, ChalkLitIScream, CifuentesErick, CriRo7, Delano Heerkens, DerkSensei, DraganChe, Eddie Pundell, El_Illusionista, FCB4Ever, FCBMo, FCB_Z8, KaranO, KentonRO, KiwiBarca, Lapulga, LotusV3, Magisterial!!!, NoImagination90, PG9, PUG LIFE, BITCH, Rajesh1101s, Richzorz, Ruy Diaz, Sarim097, Sebanovic, SlightlyInsaneCule, Som-i-Serem, Staralfur, Steven Cordero, Swn.Culé, The Art of Boxing, Varungrover, ViscaViscaBarca, Willis1984, Youssefyasser, compneeyah, craig00000, dinoh, gimme alredy, hdp78, jeankenzylov, jithen, justdoit94, logicalcule, msalmanz, papant7, siempre_riquelme, syredeathtrooper
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 Delano Heerkens 86
2 Willis1984 57
3 NoImagination90 50
4 LotusV3 35
5 KiwiBarca 35
6 Anders Thomassen 34
7 Ayush Tiwari 34
8 FCBMo 32
9 Bostjan Cernensek 31
10 AraibKarim 27
11 dinoh 19
12 craig00000 19
13 Som-i-Serem 19
14 Rajesh1101s 19
15 Swn.Culé 19
16 Ruy Diaz 17
17 SlightlyInsaneCule 16
18 Richzorz 14
19 PG9 10
20 ChalkLitIScream 10
21 DerkSensei 10
22 Lapulga 9
23 Abohabiba 9
24 Staralfur 8
25 Abdul95 8
26 Steven Cordero 7
27 The Art of Boxing 6
28 Varungrover 6
29 siempre_riquelme 5
30 syredeathtrooper 5
31 ViscaViscaBarca 4
32 FCB4Ever 4
33 jithen 4
34 Magisterial!!! 4
36 FCB_Z8 4
37 compneeyah 3
38 gimme alredy 2
39 Eddie Pundell 2
40 Sebanovic 2
41 jeankenzylov 2
42 msalmanz 1
43 DraganChe 1
44 Youssefyasser 1
45 KaranO 1
46 CifuentesErick 1
47 justdoit94 1
48 Anirudh_Kul 1
49 CriRo7 1
50 logicalcule 1
51 papant7 1
52 hdp78 1
53 Sarim097 1
54 El_Illusionista 1
55 KentonRO 1

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