For the second time in less than two weeks Barcelona were able to beat one of the hottest teams in European football, Villarreal. Goals from Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique were more than enough for Barcelona to win the first leg, but a goal from Manu Trigueros has Villarreal lurking for a chance in the return leg.
|FC Barcelona||Villarreal CF
|Shots on Target||6||3|
The two teams last met only ten days ago, when in a thrilling encounter Barcelona twice came back from a one-goal deficit to earn the three points. Villarreal coach Marcelino García Toral must've been very happy with his side as he named the same starting XI as he did on February 1.
Luis Enrique, on the other side, made a couple changes, starting in goal where Copa goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen took his place. The defensive line was the same as it was against Athletic Bilbao, but Javier Mascherano, who started alongside Gerard Pique against Villarreal the last time, took the pitch as the defensive midfielder. The other five players were the same as they were in the La Liga match between the two sides, including Rafinha, who played arguably his best game in Blaugrana colors.
The match started with a moment of silence for former Barcelona coach, Udo Lattek, who enjoyed a long career both as a football player as well as a coach.
Barcelona quickly started to assert their possession game and Villarreal seemed content to allow them to get to 30 yards from Sergio Asenjo's goal before starting to pressure the ball-carrier. Defensively Villarreal were positioned very well, with very little space to exploit for Barcelona. At times nine opposing players, including the goalkeeper, were in the Villarreal penalty area - more on set pieces.
But despite the just about constant pressure - Villarreal rarely ventured into Barcelona's half - Barcelona didn't test Asenjo until the 12th minute when a fortuitous bounce started the Barcelona chance. A deflected clearance saw the ball bounce to Luis Suarez who patiently waited for Messi to get in space, and found him with a lovely pass. Messi took a couple steps to the middle and took aim, but his shot was redirected on its way, deflecting straight into the hands of Asenjo.
Barcelona continued to create chances over the next few minutes, first one coming from a floating cross from the right, but the cross was just out of reach of both Suarez and Jordi Alba. Just second later Alba had a chance to find Suarez in space in the middle, but his cross was a couple inches too high for the Uruguay international so another chance went begging.
A scary moment happened in the 19th minute when Mascherano was stepped on by Luciano Vietto, rolling El Jefecito's ankle a bit. Mascherano stayed down for quite some time, holding his ankle, but he was able to continue. Not only that, he was making acrobatic tackles just minutes later.
Barcelona's next stretch of scoring chances came around the half hour mark when first Messi again missed the target. His chance was created by a stunning juke from Iniesta while being covered by Bruno Soriano, but Messi's shot from the edge of the area went over the crossbar. While covering Iniesta Bruno injured himself badly enough that he had to be replaced by Manu. In the 32nd minute it appeared that Barcelona had finally broken down Villarreal's defense, with Jeremy Mathieu finishing off Rafinha's run, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
Villarreal first forced ter Stegen to join in on the action in the 39th minute when the young German calmly punched Giovani dos Santos' free kick out of danger.
But Barcelona were quick to carry the ball back into Villarreal's half and again started threatening to take the lead. And as has been the case so often this season Barcelona were able to capitalize on an opponent's turnover. Injury replacement Manu sent a poor pass back to Mateo Musacchio and Suarez stole the ball away. With space in front of him he carried the ball into the area before finding Messi in the middle, but this time the Argentine made no mistake, powering the ball into the back of the net for the opening goal of the match.
Quickly thereafter, in the 43rd minute, Dani Alves and Messi combined on the right before Messi found Suarez in a dangerous area, but the Uruguayan's low shot whistled wide of the target. In the next minute an Iniesta shot/pass went just out of reach of both Neymar and Suarez, and Villarreal were able to hold on. Suarez and Messi would each have another chance to add to Barcelona's lead just seconds later, but both failed to do so.
Villarreal almost made Barcelona pay for all the missed chances with Vietto coming very close to tying the game up. Denis Cheryshev sent a perfect cross into the penalty area where Vietto directed the ball to the back post, but ter Stegen was able to palm the ball away, while fully outstretched, for a corner kick. With the half coming to an end Villarreal wasted too much time setting up the corner kick that the referee Alejandro José Hernández Hernández decided it was enough and blew for halftime.
Villarreal started the second half with some pressure and they were quickly rewarded for their play, with Manu scoring from 30-yards out to score the all-important away goal and extend Villarreal streak of games with a goal scored to 28. Suarez turned the ball over and Manu immediately fired on goal. The shot seemed to be going right into the hands of ter Stegen, but somehow the German missed it, with the ball finishing in the back of the net.
But Barcelona responded magnificently, in similar fashion as they did 10 days ago. Suarez was once again a key contributor to the goal, as was Iniesta who finished the play off. Iniesta played not one, but two one-twos in the build-up, the first with Suarez, the second with Villarreal defender Mario Gaspar, who was covering Suarez, finishing the play off with a strong finish.
Jonathan dos Santos was then taken off the pitch and was replaced by Antonio Rukavina, as Marcelino was hoping for some more defensive stability now that his team scored the away goal. But the plan didn't have the desired effect as Villarreal initially lost some of the defensive stability they had before. While the chances the hosts created weren't clear-cut there were many of them as holes started to appear in the back-line.
Barcelona were able to double their lead in the 64th minute. Alves caused some havoc in the penalty area, resulting in the ball coming to Suarez whose shot was blocked for a corner kick. Messi sent in a perfect cross from the right flag, right on the head of Pique who escaped Musacchio and headed the ball out of reach of Asenjo and into the back of the net.
Lucho made his first substitution of game in the 68th minute when he replaced Rafinha with Ivan Rakitić. Two minutes later Barcelona had a golden opportunity to add to the lead as Musacchio's horror night continued as he handled the ball inside the area, resulting in a penalty. Surprisingly, it was Neymar who took responsibility for the kick. The same Neymar that was virtually invisible throughout the game. The Brazilian hesitated once or twice in his run-on, failing to fool Asenjo in the process as the goalkeeper expertly denied Neymar.
Rakitić almost made up for Neymar's missed opportunity in the next minute, but his 25-yard bullet was well saved by Asenjo. Moments later Villarreal completed their last substitution of the match, replacing the ever-threatening Cheryshev with Moi Gomez.
Moi would have Villarreal's next great chance, in the 80th minute, after Manu and Vietto combined excellently to create the chance for Moi. The youngster fired a powerful shot from the edge of the area, but Mathieu came flying in to block the dangerous chance. Villarreal would continue to threaten on the counter after Barcelona lost the ball in attack and in the 84th minute Giovani had a chance to reduce Barcelona's lead, but his header didn't trouble ter Stegen.
Villarreal finished the game with 10 players as Mario had to be taken off injured after he was clipped on the knee by one of his teammates in the 85th minute. Barcelona quickly tried to expose Villarreal for their lack of a right-back, but Neymar was wrongly adjudged to be offside after he tried to receive the ball on the left side.
Suarez would out of nowhere create one last scoring chance in the 91st minute. Receiving the ball at midfield he saw that Asenjo was off his line and he immediately tried his luck while still in the midfield circle. It turned out to be a fantastic attempt that flew over the goalkeeper, but also about a yard wide of the post.
Barcelona now hold a healthy advantage going into the second leg which will be played on March 4, but the away goal scored by Villarreal means that this tie is still far from over.
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