Barcelona blew Villarreal out of the water with an impressive showing, scoring five while conceding only one. Barcelona dominated the first half and they were able to show it with goals from Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho and Lionel Messi. The Catalans took their foot of the gas in the second half and Villarreal were able to get on the board though Nicola Sansone, but a late surge saw Ousmane Dembele score his first Barcelona brace.
With the league done and dusted, and the El Clasico out of the way, Ernesto Valverde, even with the unbeaten season on the line, rotated heavily. Only a handful of first-team regulars started the match, with most of the rotation coming in defense where Jasper Cillessen saw rare La Liga action behind a back-line featuring Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Thomas Vermaelen and Lucas Digne. In attack, Dembele, Messi and Coutinho formed a trio with Luis Suarez on the bench. Ivan Rakitić was also given some very rare time off.
Similarly to Barcelona, Villarreal also had very little to play for. The Yellow Submarine need just a single point from their three remaining games to secure a spot in the Europa League. As a result, the pace of the game wasn’t particularly high, but Barcelona sill made sure that the fans at the Camp Nou saw plenty of excitement on the pitch.
The Catalans created their first scoring chance of the game in the 7th minute when Messi took aim from 15-yards out, but his shot sailed wide of the far post. But the Camp Nou crowd didn’t have to wait long for the first goal, as it came just 11 minutes after the opening whistle. Dembele made a brilliant run down the right side, ending it with a powerful shot. Sergio Asenjo was able to make the save, but couldn’t control the rebound which fell right onto the foot of Coutinho who calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net.
Villarreal, in their first real burst forward, looked to reply in the 14th minute, but Pablo Fornals’ shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Cillessen. Barcelona countered quickly with an attack of their own, doubling their lead in the 16th minute. Villarreal’s defense was seemingly well positioned, but Andres Iniesta’s through ball to Digne carved the visitors up completely. Unselfishly, Digne squared the ball to the middle to Paulinho who was left with an easy tap-in.
Barcelona continued to attack, but with a healthy lead in hand, there wasn’t much urgency to their attacking efforts and more often than not they were held to the perimeter. But with their possession play Barcelona also held Villarreal at bay who very rarely showed life in attack.
But despite Barcelona’s attacking play, the Catalans didn’t create their next chance until the 40th minute when Dembele led Barcelona on a very promising counter attack. Deep inside the area, Dembele passed the ball back to Messi near the penalty spot, but the Argentine couldn’t get a shot off. Villarreal quickly went the other way and almost made Semedo pay for a crucial slip, but Jaume Costa’s low drive was saved by Cillessen
Just as it was appearing that Barcelona will be taking a two-goal lead into the break, Messi and Iniesta showcased some magic. The pair combined for a stunning one-two that resulted in a great chance for Messi and the Argentine made no mistake from a tough angle to add to Barcelona’s lead. Immediately after the goal the referee whistled for halftime.
After the break, the visitors made a substitution, leaving former Real Madrid man Denis Cheryshev inside the locker room and replaced him with Sansone. Villarreal showed more attacking spirit after the restart, threatening for the first time in the 49th minute, but Samu Castillejo’s curling effort just missed the far post. Two minutes later, Carlos Bacca’s half-volley suffered a similar fate.
Villarreal’s positive play bore fruit in the 54th minute. The visitors launched a quick counter that led to Fornals taking the shot to the far post. Halfway on goal, the ball hit Sansone, redirecting the opposite way, leaving Cillessen stranded and Villarreal celebrating a goal. Quickly thereafter Villarreal made their second change, bringing on Javi Fuego in place of Manu Trigueros.
Barcelona hadn’t shown much in the second half, though there were a couple half-chances that the hosts could’ve done better at. Villarreal on the other hand were having more success in attack and they came very close to making it a one goal game in the 61st minute. Rodri was left open on a corner kick and headed on goal, but Cillessen was perfectly position to make the stop on the goal-line.
In quick succession, in an effort to rest two more of his regulars, Valverde then made two substitutions, first Suarez replacing Iniesta, then Rakitić taking Sergio Busquets’ spot. Shortly thereafter young Turkish forward Enes Ünal replaced Bacca for Villarreal’s third and final change.
Villarreal continued to attack, but Barcelona were seeing more of the ball than they did earlier in the half. As soon as Barcelona attacked Villarreal were in trouble and in the 73rd minute Coutinho found the back of the net after a brilliant Dembele back-heel, but it was correctly ruled out as Coutinho was offside. Five minutes later, Messi set up Suarez, but the Uruguayan’s shot just missed the target.
With just over ten minutes left to play, Valverde offered some playing time to Yerry Mina who replaced Pique. With little time remaining, Barcelona looked to give their fans something to cheer about – and the results were very positive indeed. First, Rakitić went on a stunning solo run down the right wing in the 88th minute, making Villarreal’s defense look incredibly silly. Now deep in the Villarreal area, Rakitić found a wide open Dembele on the far post for the easy tap in to restore the three goal lead. The Frenchman would be in the thick of it again five minutes later. Mina blocked a shot on goal and the ball ricochet to near midfield where Dembele picked it up. From there it was all Dembele as he went on a Messi-esque run, leaving defenders in his wake, and finishing the play off with a brilliant chip over Asenjo.
A stunning goal to cap off a mostly impressive showing against a tough Villarreal side, who only saw the ball when Barcelona allowed it. With another win in the books, Barcelona will look to extend their run on Sunday when they take on Levante in Valencia.