Barcelona will finish the weekend with an 11-point lead at the top of the La Liga thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win against Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Sunday night. Barça started well, scored early but couldn’t put the game away and had to suffer in the final minutes, but the best defense in Europe stepped up to the challenge and kept another clean sheet to get three crucial points at one of the toughest grounds in the country.
Barça made a fantastic start to the game, creating a massive chance just three minutes in when Pedri played a gorgeous through ball to a wide open Robert Lewandowski, but the Pole took too much time to take a shot and Pepe Reina made an important one-on-one save.
The Blaugrana continued to move the ball quickly between the lines and press high up the pitch to create dangerous chances, and that’s how they got the opening goal: Jules Kounde won the ball in the final third, and the Catalans moved it very quickly into the box where Pedri and Lewandowski made a beautiful one-two and Pedri found the back of the net.
Barça couldn’t sustain the excellence from the first 25 minutes and allowed Villarreal to grow into the game, and the Yellow Submarine had most of the possession and started to look like a threat. And they should have equalized before halftime when a bad pass from Pedri started a counter-attack and AJ Morales found himself one-on-one with Marc-André ter Stegen, but dragged his effort wide off the side netting and missed a giant chance.
At halftime Barça were leading and playing well, but Villarreal’s strong finish to the period made it clear that the second half was not going to be easy.
The final period was played almost at a basketball pace, with the ball constantly bypassing midfield and constant transition from both teams. Barça fully embraced that counter-attack mentality and created plenty of chances on the break, but Lewandowski, Raphinha and Pedri each missed huge opportunitites to double the lead early on and Barça just couldn’t put the game away.
Villarreal were unable to pile up the pressure and their players were constantly caught in offside positions, and whenever the home team found spaces inside the Barça defense their attacks were killed by Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen who were dominant at the back.
But the hosts were still alive going into the final 15 minutes, and Barça were in need of a second goal to kill off the game. They kept getting into dangerous positions on the counter but wasted those opportunities with bad decisions in the final third, and they nearly paid for it when Samuel Chukwueze scored a 90th minute equalizer that was fortunately ruled for an offside in the buildup.
Villarreal really stepped up the pressure in stoppage time but Barça’s defense continued to make plays and kept the clean sheet intact. The final whistle came, and Barça are now 11 points clear and remain perfect in 2023. The attacking performance was frustrating, but the defense was amazing once again. After years and years of terrible play at the back Barça are truly a force on that end now and deserve huge credit for that evolution.
Villarreal: Reina; Foyth, Albiol, Torres, Moreno (Mojica 83’); Parejo; Coquelin (Chukwueze 35’), Capoue, Baena (Trigueros 83’); Morales (Niño 83’), Pino
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; De Jong, Kessie (Alba 89’); Raphinha (Ferran 81’), Pedri, Gavi; Lewandowski
Goal: Pedri (18’)