As Barcelona visited the Estadio de la Ceramica, things did not look very nice for the Catalan giants. The Blaugrana were five points behind league leaders Real Madrid, who had just equalled Barcelona’s record of a 39-game unbeaten streak, which made the fixture of the night, a must-win, if they wanted to stay relevant in the title-chase.
Villareal on the other hand, were looking in good form, and a win on the night would take them ahead of Atletico Madrid, into the top-four.
Both teams wanted the win.
The game was on.
In the first few minutes, Villareal pushed high, hoping to find an early break.
A good passing move that began from Andre Gomes, ended on the other flank, as Andres Iniesta made a long range effort in an attempt to trouble Asenjo from distance. The keeper however, was more than capable of dealing with it.
Between Sergi Roberto, Andre Gomes, and Lionel Messi, the right flank looked more dangerous than it had in the past few weeks. Andre Gomes particularly stood out, due to his quick one-touch passing, which was incisive on the night.
Barca continued to probe as Messi and Iniesta pulled the strings for an aggressive play that created panic in the Villareal defence, but the chance failed to materialise into a goal.
Villareal countered swiftly, which led to a volley from former academy player Dos Santos, but his shot was well over the cross-bar to trouble Ter Stegen.
Another deadly counter from Villareal followed, as Pato got past Roberto, to drill a low cross into the box for a waiting Dos Santos, but Lucas Digne was on hand to make a last ditch tackle and take the ball away from the Mexican’s feet.
Sansone did brilliantly at the 20’ mark, to get past Javier Mascherano’s diving challenge, before he took a stinging shot at Barca’s goal, but the shot was straight at the keeper.
After an adrenaline-fueled half hour, the game began to settle into a steady rhythm of end-to-end dynamic; Every time Barcelona carved the yellow submarine open, the opposition retaliated with a dangerous counter-attack. It was only a matter of time before one team broke the dead-lock.
Despite both teams taking a proactive approach, the finishing was lacking on both sides. However, neither team was backing down, as they continued to play the game their way, and create a galore of chances.
As the half wore on, Villareal settled into a five-man backline. In the final few minutes of the first half, Andres Iniesta found Digne on the overlap, who’s cross sizzled into the box, but Suarez’s strike was straight at the keeper.
With no minutes added, the referee blew his whistle to signal half-time.
Within moments of coming out of the tunnel, Barca began to attack the yellow submarine, as they pushed higher up the pitch to pressure Villareal into their own box.
However, like every other attack so far, Villareal were quick to attack on the counter.
This time, things were different. Pato found Sasone with a pass that dissected the defence and caused a scare in the Blaugrana backline as they were caught ball-watching. Sasone’s strike reached for the far post, and despite stretching in front of goal, Ter Stegen failed to reach it, and watched the ball trickle into the far corner.
End to end stuff, as Villareal and Barça both resorted to lightning quick counter attacks. However, on both instances, the final pass was lacking, which fizzled the attacks into mere spells of possession.
Barça retaliated, as Lionel Messi found Neymar on the left flank from a central position. The Brazilian took a venomous shot but Asenjo did brilliantly, to keep Villareal’s lead intact.
With less than half hour left to change the game, Barcelona continued to rack up the pressure in the opposition third, but Villareal’s defence stood strong and their compact 4-3-2-1 was effective in killing Barça’s attack at the final pass of each play.
Hoping to add another incisive passer into the fold, Denis Suarez got brought on for Andre Gomes, who despite starting bright, fell short on the night.
A thundering shot from Messi rattled the inside of the post before rebounding into play. It was the closest that Barca had come to beating the opposition keeper on the night so far.
Moments later, another counter followed from Barca, as Messi raced through the middle and laid the ball off for Suarez on the right, whose shot was blocked. The ball was played around before Neymar attempted an acrobatic finish to the play, but in vain.
The clock kept ticking, and with each minute, Barca continued to pile on the pressure. The fact that the referee had missed two clear penalties didn’t help their cause. No matter how hard Barcelona tried, it seemed impossible to break down the yellow submarine.
Villareal did everything in their power to keep Barça away from their goal, and despite some incredible chances, like a shot from Neymar, and an beautiful lobbed ball over the defence by Iniesta, it appeared that the ball did not want to go in.
Lionel Messi disagreed.
After winning a freekick right outside the box, following a brilliant dribble, the Argentine marked his spot, and aimed his dead-ball straight into the top corner to level the scores in the final seconds of regular time.
After four minutes of additional time, and a red for Villareal, the referee brought an end to the closely contested fixture, as he blew his three pips.
An entertaining game for the neutral, but certainly not a positive result for the two teams in action.
While Villareal failed to get into the top four, Barça fell short in their target of closing the 5 point gap between them and league-leaders Real Madrid which could turn to 8, if the capital side win their game in hand.
While the football is starting to get brighter with each passing game, it still isn’t the season that we had all hoped for, after the influx of new talent on the roster.
One can draw similarities to last season, with a switch in roles for Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Altough it is too soon to say this, if one were being practical, the league is significantly out of Barca’s reach and it is going to take a miracle, for the Blaugrana to end this season with the Liga.
Fortunately we have our very own miracle, and he wears the number 10.