Barça twice came from behind tonight to earn a thrilling 3-2 victory over Villarreal at Camp Nou. Denis Cheryshev put the visitors in front after half an hour before Neymar levelled the score shortly before half-time. Luciano Vietto fired Villarreal back into the lead shortly after the break but Rafinha and Leo Messi scored in quick succession to earn three vital points for Barça to keep the pressure on leaders Real Madrid.
Rafinha in place of Ivan Rakitic was the only change to Luis Enrique’s once de gala, and the young Brazilian responded with his best game so far as a blaugrana. Early on he combined in a good build-up with Busquets and Iniesta but when Iniesta found Luis Suarez, the striker pulled his shot wide of the post.
Suarez just can’t find the net at the moment. He had two more chances in the first twenty-.one minutes, forcing an unorthodox right-handed save from Asenjo with the first, and then flashing his shot wide from 15 yards with the second. Barça were looking in control of the game but the finishing, with Alves also off target, was lacking, while Neymar struggled to get past Mario and Jordi Alba’s crossing was failing to find a finisher.
Villarreal were defending well but there was little seen from them in attack besides a couple of crosses that Barça cleared and a moment that Giovani dos Santos might have gone through but Piqué made a good interception. Then in the 30th minute a break from the visitors led to two balls into the area and both times Mascherano only half-cleared, the second time the clearance went straight to Mario who miscued a shot but sent the ball whizzing into the area and Cheryshev reacted by sticking out a boot and diverting the ball past Bravo.
Barça failed to react to the goal and there were ten minutes or so when it was looking very difficult to penetrate the Villarreal defence. Then in the 43rd minute when Iniesta found a shooting chance he fired the ball straight against Neymar which led to a break from the visitors which ended with Bravo saving from Vietto’s header. The breakthrough came for Barça moments before the half-time whistle. Messi dribbled past Cheryshev on the right and sent a pass between Bruno and Costa into the area to Rafinha who had space to turn and shoot for the far post, Asenjo sprang to save but Neymar was on hand to bury the rebound.
Neymar’s equalizer put Barça back in the game but Villarreal had complicated life sufficiently in the first half to suggest the second half would not be easy. When the visitors went back in front in the 51st minute after a mistake from Piqué it looked like it wouldn’t be Barça’s night. Piqué had looked very strong at the back in the first game since his second son, Sasha, was born, but he suffered a moment of over-confidence and took his eye off the ball which allowed Giovani to rob him and race into the area, when Bravo closed the angle the elder Dos Santos brother pulled the ball back and Vietto shot past Busquets on the line.
However, Barça already showed at Atlético on Wednesday that this team does not lie down. Just two minutes after Vietto’s strike, Iniesta played a superb ball into the area for Suarez who, with Asenjo closing him down, crossed for Messi who headed against a defender and Rafinha followed up by smashing the ball high into the net.
Then just two minutes after the equalizer Alba got the ball on the left and passed inside to Suarez who under pressure managed to knock the ball on to Messi who fired a magnificent right-footed shot from the edge of the area that flew into the far top corner. The goal was Messi’s 22nd in La Liga this season and his 32nd in all competitions.
Villarreal had the odd half-chance in the remaining 35 minutes but they failed to test Bravo again and Barça looked reasonably in control. Neymar might have had a penalty but it looked like he was already slipping before Asenjo clattered into him and referee Vicandi Garrido waved play on. Alves then crossed and Suarez seemed off-balance as he failed to convert at the far post.
Mathieu came on for Busquets which saw Mascherano move into midfield to good effect while Pedro and Rakitic got a few minutes at the end. The final danger came when Villarreal won a corner on the left in the 90th minute but these days Barça are looking much better at defending set-pieces and Piqué cleared. Barça have now won eight on the trot and we now have a midweek rest before next Sunday’s clash with Athletic Club at San Mames.
Barça: Bravo 6; Alves 6.5, Piqué 6.5, Mascherano 6.5, Alba 6.5; Rafinha 8 (Rakitic m88, –), Busquets 6 (Mathieu m68, 7), Iniesta 6.5; Messi 7.5, Suárez 6 (Pedro m78, 6), Neymar 7.
Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Musacchio, V.Ruiz, J.Costa; Johnathan dos Santos (Moi Gomez m84), Bruno, Pina (Trigueros m76), Cheryshev; Vietto, Giovani dos Santos (Uche m89).
Goals: m30 Cheryshev 0-1, m45 Neymar 1-1, m51 Vietto 1-2, m53 Rafinha 2-2, m55 Messi 3-2.
Yellow cards: m23 Bruno, m41 Johnathan dos Santos, m63 Rafinha