Barcelona have won back-to-back games in La Liga for the first time this season thanks to a hard-fought 3-1 victory away to Villarreal. Barça played their worst match under Xavi and left it very late, but got two goals in the last six minutes and escaped El Madrigal with three crucial points.
The first 10 minutes were wild at the Madrigal, with Dani Parejo almost breaking Sergio Busquets’ ankle in the first minute and not even getting a yellow card, Ez Abde having a header brilliantly saved by Gerónimo Rulli onto the crossbar, Gerard Piqué saving a shot by Arnaut Danjuma with his hand and not being called for a penalty, and both Memphis Depay and Gavi missing clear chances.
Barça dominated the next 10 minutes with some excellent offensive football and created a huge chance when Frenkie De Jong played a sensational through ball to put Memphis one-on-one with the keeper but Depay somehow missed the target completely. Barça had almost 80% possession in the first 20 minutes, and it looked as though they would be in control for the entire half.
But Unai Emery’s side grew into the game and started exploring a clear weakness in the Barça defense: young Ez Abde on the right wing and Eric García at right-back. The two players looked completely lost trying to track their men and Alfonso Pedraza became the most dangerous player on the pitch by constantly losing Ez Abde and running into the space vacated by García.
Villarreal created chance after chance that way, with two big ones falling to Danjuma but the Dutch winger was unable to beat Marc-André ter Stegen in goal. The Yellow Submarine finished the half as the superior side, and at halftime Barça were on the ropes and Xavi needed to make some serious adjustments to avoid disaster in the second half.
There was no tactical adjustment at the half, but Barça changed the game in the final period with an early goal: after a cross from Jordi Alba on the left, Memphis had his shot saved by Rulli but De Jong scored on the rebound into an open net and Barça took the lead just five minutes into the second half.
Villarreal stepped up their pressure after going behind and Barça completely lost their shape. The Blaugrana struggled to keep possession and their defense looked more and more disorganized, and they finally paid for it when Manu Trigueros played a ball over the top, Danjuma got to it before Piqué and Samuel Chukwueze then anticipated Óscar Mingueza and found the back of the net for the equalizer.
The home team continued to dominate in the final 15 minutes and had several really good opportunities to find the winner, but somehow, someway, the winner was scored by the visitors: after a long ball by Ter Stegen was not properly cleared by Pervis Estupiñán, Memphis Depay got to the ball before the Villarreal defense, rounded the keeper and nutmegged the defender at the line to give Barça the lead.
There was still time left for Villarreal to find an equalizer, but Barça made sure of all three points when Philippe Coutinho won a penalty and scored from the spot to make it 3-1. The final whistle came, and Barça have won two games in a row for the first time in the league this season.
This was by far the worst performance of the week, and Xavi didn’t help his team either. Barça were very lucky to win this one, but they never won these sorts of games under Ronald Koeman. Perhaps luck is on Xavi’s side, but he has a lot of work to do.
Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza (Estupiñán 65’); Pino (Chukwueze 65’), Capoue, Parejo, Gómez; Trigueros (Raba 84’), Danjuma
Goal: Chukwueze (76’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; García, Araujo, Piqué, Alba (Mingueza 71’); De Jong, Busquets, Nico (Coutinho 80’); Ez Abde (Dembélé 66’), Memphis, Gavi
Goals: De Jong (50’), Memphis (88’), Coutinho (pen 90+4’)