Barcelona left it late to salvage a valuable point which capped off a thrilling evening at the newly christened Estadio de la Ceramica tonight.
The first half was a frantic affair and a fine advertisement for anyone who complains about the slow style of play often associated with the Spanish game. The visitors dominated possession and Villarreal struck on the counter with Pato and Sansone looking dangerous for the men in yellow. Barcelona came close on two occasions with Neymar watching a venomous right foot strike going close and Villarreal keeper Asenjo saving well from Lionel Messi.
The second half took a little while to reach the intensity level of the first period and once again it was a counter attack from Escriba's side which led to the opening goal with Pato finding Sansone and the Italian slotted past Ter Stegen for his seventh league goal in the current campaign.
Barcelona probed and looked to bounce back and were rebuffed time after time by an imperious wall of yellow. The game was not without it's controversy as both sides had valid penalty appeals overruled by Iglesias Villanueva.
Just when it seemed that Real Madrid would stretch their lead at the top of the league table to six points over Luis Enrique's men, up stepped Leo Messi , who by his own high standards had a discreet game. The Argentine was on hand to take Barça's 90th minute free kick and drove home with a sweet strike that re-defines the term "top corner". A fitting way to end an exhilarating contest with points shared at the newly named stadium in Vila-real.
A fabulous game of football tonight in Vila-real with both teams doing their bit to add to the spectacle. Possibly a fair result on what we saw over the 90 minutes and a game no-one wanted to end. We'll have all the post match reaction and talking points to stay with us.
Cheers for your company this evening.
Min 94 | That's it...full time at the Estadio de la Ceramica. Villarreal 1- Barça
Min 93 | Costa gets his second yellow and is off, Villarreal down to ten for the final minute
Min 92 | The Messi free kick was perfection defined.... as good a strike as you will ever see....top corner personified!
4 minutes of time to be added
Min 90 | Messi to take.... and scores Gol gol gol gol gol ...Barça draw level with a work of art from the No. 10
Min 89 | A very, very dangerous free kick for Barcelona just outside the opposition area.
Min 88 | Time running out for Luis Enrique. A defeat would see Barcelona lie six points behind Madrid at the top of the table and in third place behind Sevilla.
Min 87 | Alvaro takes Musaccio's place
Min 86 | Problems for Musaccio as he takes an awkward fall and needs medical attention
Min 74 | Good work from Neymar as his cross finds Arda but the Turkish international fails to get his header on target.
Min 83 | No way past the yellow wall as Barça defender gets a card. Change for Villarreal with Soriano coming off and Rodrigo taking his place
Min 79 | Victor Ruiz saves Villarreal as Suarez waited to pounce. No let-up from the Catalan side as they maintain patience and their principles in their build up play.
Min 77 | Barça need a goal. These days a draw away to Villarreal is a decent result but to leave empty handed would give another major boost to Real Madrid at the summit of LaLiga.
Min 75 | End to end .... Villarreal have a penalty appeal as Mascherano appears to handle the ball, they then break at the other end when Suarez tries his luck and eventually Neymar heads over. Breathless stuff ! Samu on for Pato (first change for Villarreal)
Min 73 | Barça denied a clear penalty as a Villarreal defender (Bruno the offender) handles in the area...just as Messi strikes the post with a left foot drive.
Min 71 | Mascherano latches onto a freekick but the header fails to dip as Arda comes on for Digne
Min 70 | Jaume Costa booked after a tug on Luis Suarez
Min 69 | Villarreal looking comfortable being able to absorb the Barça penetration as the Catalan side are unable to thread that final killer ball.
Min 68 | Change for Barça as Gomes makes way for Denis Suarez
Min 64 | Neymar tumbles in the area and the referee waves away the half hearted plea for a spot kick.
Min 63 | A clear pattern developing to the game now with Barça pressing and probing and Villarreal defending deeply with ten men behind the ball.
Min 61 | The goal has Barça rattled who are playing with just a hint of over-haste and anxiety. Villarreal captain Bruno Soriano cutting out everything the MSN have to throw at him
Min 60 | Possession Villarreal 26% v Barcelona 74%
Min 58 | Dennis Suarez set to come on ...Gomes the player to make way I'd hazard a guess.
Min 55 | Danger from Villarreal with Pato at the heart of the action again, the Catalan side looking very vulnerable at the counter-attacks from the home side.
Min 52 | What can Barça do now? Still plenty of time for Luis Enrique's men to find their way back into this game as Neymar fires straight at Asenjo with the goal beckoning.
Min 50 | Sansone bags his seventh Laliga goal of the season but credit to Pato with an inch perfect pass after a great break on the counter.
Min 49 | Gollllllllllllllllll as Villarreal go ahead with Sansone firing a precision drive past Ter Stegen
Min 47 | A discreet evening from Andre Gomes, the Portuguese midfielder has still to find his rhythm at the Catalan side
Min 46 | No changes at the break
Min 46 | All set for the second period with the visitors set to get proceedings underway
Half time analysis:
An excellent game unfolding at the newly named Estadio de la Ceramica tonight with both teams determined to play attacking offensive football. Barcelona have dominated proceedings in terms of possession with Villarreal threatening on the break with the best chance of the half falling to Mexican Dos Santos who blazed over from short range. Barça troubled the Villarreal goal on a handful of occasions with Neymar coming close and Messi forcing the best out of Asenjo who tipped over from the Argentine. More of the same please !
Min 45 | Half time: Villarreal 0-0 Barça
Min 44 | Into the last minute we go, no delays to speak of so unlikely for any time to be added on as Suarez latches on to a great pull-back from Digne to fire a low hard drive at the Villarreal no.1.
Min 44 | Never underestimate Messi as the no. 10 forces an excellent tip-over from the Villarreal keeper. Best chance for the visitors so far tonight.
Min 43 | Sansone and Pato, danger men for the home side tonight with Neymar and Iniesta looking the bright sparks so far for Barça.
Min 41 | The Celtic Submari banner is on display at the stadium tonight with an excellent relationship existing between supporters of the home side and Scottish outfit Glasgow Celtic.
Min 39 | A lull in the game after a frantic opening 35 minutes or so.
Min 36 | Not sure if the view is shared by other Barça fans but the blue in the Barcelona kit should be darker... navy blue rather than royal blue? Anyhow, just my ramblings ; )
Min 35 | Messi is uncharacteristically quiet tonight !
Min 33 | Neymar switches off for a split second and gives the Villarreal defender to cut out his goal bound flick after a neat Suarez assist.
Min 30 | Anyone who ever claims Spanish football is dull and is slow, would be advised to watch the first thirty minutes of this game. No let-up in the pace with the ball zipping (with purpose) from one end to the other.
Min 28 | Pato is having a tremendous game for Villarreal tonight as the Brazilian delivers a delightful back heel flick, sadly (for him) for his team-mate Costa was called offside.
Min 26 | Barcelona totally dominating proceedings possession wise so far tonight:
Villarreal 27% Barça 73%
Min 24 | Neymar unleashes a ripping right foot drive that was just inches away from opening the scoring.
Min 22 | No let-up in the action as Sansone (again) fires off a fight footed shot outside the area but the Italian international will need to improve if he wants to beat the German keeper from that range.
Min 20 | Sansone bursts free and the 25 year old fires off a tame right footed drive that was easily gathered by Ter Stegen in the Barça goal. Great burst of pace from the Munich born player.
Min 18 | Not quite a full house this evening at the 25.000 capacity stadium but early reports suggesting 24.000/24.500 fans in attendance tonight.
Min 16 | 16 minutes gone already ...the game flying by, a testament to the bright opening we're seeing in Vila-real this evening.
Min 15 | An innocuous collision between Soriano and Pique sees the Catalan defender come off second best.
Min 13 | Another scare for Barça as great play from Pato sends the ball into the Barça six yard and only a brave interception from Digne saves the day for Luis Enrique's side.
Min 12 | Fans of both teams audible at the Estadio de la Ceramica as El Madridgal is now known.. a nod to the local porcelain industry in the Castellon area.
Min 10 | ...but the best chance of the game falls to Dos Santos who fires a delightful ball from Sansone over the bar when hitting the target would have been easier.
Min 9 | All Barça now as the Catalan side probe with Messi and Iniesta at the heart of all the creative play for the current LaLiga champions.
Min 7 | Iniesta tries a cheeky lobbed ball but the Villarreal defence are wise to his ideas and intercept the delivery.
Min 6 | Luis Suarez clobbers Victor Ruiz in his efforts to latch onto a ball in the area. Bright early start from both sides with Barça enjoying more possession.
Min 4 | First chance of the night falls to Iniesta who fires off a speculative long range right foot drive that is aimed straight at Asenjo.
Min 1 | The home side in their classic all yellow kit with Barça in the azul-grana stripes, blue shorts and socks
Min 1| Villarreal get us underway tonight
20:37 | Tonight marks game 150 for Luis Enrique on the Barça bench (in all competition, winning 114 of his 149 games in charge).
20:35 | Recent Villarreal v Barça games have been lively affairs with plenty of action and goals. The corresponding fixture in the 2015/16 campaign ended 2-2.
20:30 | Villarreal president Fernando Roig speaking pre-match affirms that his objective for his club is to always remain in the top flight and that winning the league is a utopia.
20:25 | Weather report: A chilly night on the Eastern coast of Spain with a temnperature of 8C expected at kick-off in Vila-real.
20:15 | More insight on the Barcelona changes ahead on tonight's game
19:55 | Villarreal president Fernndo Roig just finishing the official renaming of El Madridgal press conference
Confirmed starting line ups:
Villarreal XI: Asenjo, Musacchio, Ruiz, Costa, Mario, Trigueros, Bruno, Soriano, Sansone, Dos Santos and Pato
19:00 | Tonight's game will be played at the Estadio de la Cerámica after Villarreal officially re-named El Madridgal this evening.
17:55 | The AS Oracle has been hit and miss this weekend, it's fair to say. Still, no time like the present for him to arrest his mid-winter slump: here's what he expects from Villarreal-Barcelona.
17:20 | With Real Madrid provisionally six points clear and with a game in hand, it's a must-win for Barça tonight - but the players looked relaxed in training as they shared a joke at Sergio Busquets' expense.
17:00 | If you're asking yourself how and where the devil one can watch Villarreal-Barcelona, then look no further: we've got the lowdown.
16:00 | ICYMI: Midfielder Ivan Rakitic has been left out of the Barcelona squad for tonight's clash. The Croat hasn't played a minute in LaLiga since El Clásico.
15:55 | Real Madrid are expected to dominate the 2016 FIFA FIFPro World11, which is to be announced tomorrow - but Barcelona are also expected to be represented. Get the full story here.
14:35 | And on the subject of goalscoring milestones, the 'MSN' of Leo Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar are on a combined total of 298 since being brought together at Barça - two more at Villarreal will bring up their triple century.
13:55 | Barcelona striker Luis Suárez is one goal off 100 for Los Azulgranas. Having drawn a blank at Athletic in the Copa del Rey in midweek, can he complete his century today?
13:35 | Gerard Pique caused controversy (for a change) with his comments on the standard of refereeing following Barça's loss to Bilbao on Thursday. His coach Luis Enrique begs to differ however...
13:00 | Villarreal have really struggled against Barcelona in recent times. Take a closer look at how the Yellow Submarines could fair tonight against somewhat of a bogey team.
11:50 | Breaking: Ivan Rakitic has been left out of the Barça squad for tonight's game. More on that story here.
11:15 | ICYMI: Zinedine Zidane equalled Luis Enrique's unbeaten record yesterday when Real Madrid thrashed Granada 5-0 at the Bernabéu.
10:30 | Villarreal will be announcing a new name for their stadium, Estadio El Madrigal, today at 18:30. You can follow the announcement live here.
09:00 | Good morning campers! Just under 12 hours to go until kick-off of what our detailed match preview (read below) is describing as (potentially) 'the game of the weekend'. Well, you wouldn't want to miss that then, would you? Stay right where you are and we'll be bringing you all the build up throughout the day.
Villarreal - Barcelona: Match preview
Without doubt the game of the weekend. Both teams find themselves in the upper echelons of the table but with slightly different objectives. Villarreal want to maintain their spot in the Champions League positions while Barcelona will be looking to keep pressure on leaders Real Madrid. The Yellow Submarines go into the game on the back of a 3-1 loss in the Copa del Rey to Real Socieded, with Barça too starting off 2017 on the wrong foot, falling to cup defeat on Thursday in San Mames.
Sunday night’s trip to Villarreal poses an important clash for Luis Enrique’s side, entering the field knowing that Real Madrid already picked up maximum points on Saturday. Anything but a win at Estadio El Madrgial will pile the pressure on given that Los Blancos have already gone six points clear with the same number of games played. Sevilla, too, leapfrogged the Catalans into 2nd following their victory yesterday. Los Cules though will have to pick themselves up from the loss to Athletic Bilbao in midweek despite having a numerical advantage after playing a portion of the game with one, and later two extra men on the field.
Enrique’s outfit though can be encouraged by their great form outside Camp Nou in the league this season. In eight games played away from home they’ve won six, drawn one and lost one (at Celta). Barça will have to do without injured keeper Jasper Cilessen, with Masip likely replacing him as sub-goalie in the match squad. Mathieu could return to the group after completing his recuperation.
It’s been a great campaign so far Fran Escribá’s side. They’re 4th in the table (the last Champions League spot), and have qualified for the 2nd round of the Europa League.After a shaky start to the season, Villarreal soon got up and running and two consecutive league victories in December (one of them against Atletico Madrid) consolidated the team’s good form. Home performances, as well as the stand out displays of centre-midfielder, Trigueros, have played a key part in this success, with six wins from eight league games at El Madrigal (only Alaves have won there).
Coach Escribá will still be without the services of Soldado, who continues his recovery from a long-term injury. Bakambú will also be absent after travelling to meet up with his national side for the forthcoming African Cup of Nations, while Cheryshev faces a late fitness test. Bruno Soriano and Víctor Ruiz could enter the squad to fill the gaps.