Barcelona 4 - 1 Villarreal: match report
With only three games remaining for Barcelona, this evening's home match against Villarreal represented the toughest challenge, on paper anyway, to them collecting maximum points which they'll almost certainly require if they are to pip rivals Real Madrid to the Liga title. And as the early exchanges were made, it looked as though it could turn into one of those very frustrating nights for the Camp Nou crowd.
Villarreal arrived with a defensive record only bettered by Atlético Madrid and set out their stall to stop Barça first and hope to break after - not a ridiculous strategy considering the opposition with the live-wire attacking strength of Messi, Neymar and Suárez. It seemed to be working too, with every run and pass into the final third being tracked, blocked or tackled by a yellow-shirted foe. But it didn't last. And the MSN were at the heart of the win.
Villarreal showing defensive strength
The first goal came on the 20th minute. Messi receiving the ball on the left side of the area with only one defender near him. He picked out a gap through to Neymar who controlled and stabbed home past Fernández. The Yellow Submarine now had to release some of the anchor, and they did so to good effect with Bakambu sitting on the shoulder of the last line and, with that blaugrana line running close to the halfway mark, was able to turn and show a clean pair of heels to the chasing Digne. A neat finish and the uncertainty was back. But that all changed on the stroke of half-time.
Second half Barça dominance
As the referee looked at his watch, the mercurial Argentine did what we've seen him do hundreds of times: pick the ball up on the right, drift across the defensive blocking line until a gap appears, then lets fly. A deflection helped but it set a tone that wasn't to change throughout the second half. Control of the game was Barça's, chances were getting clearer and clearer, and in the 68th minute Suárez joined the party. Messi added another - just a cool panenka penalty - as we entered the final 10 minutes and that was that. Ter Stegen had a few moments he'd rather forget but the MSN shone brightly enough that little else mattered. And Neymar added several more clips to his Christmas showboating DVD.
FT: Barcelona 4 - 1 Villarreal: as it happened
Full-time | The whistle blows and what started as a potential title slip-up gradually become a whole lot easier for Luis Enrique's men. Our match report will be up here in a while. Over to you Real Madrid...the live feed is already running.
Min 90+2 | Free kick with Neymar looking for a second. Into wall and away but Barça get it back into the mixer and the Brazilian almost gets a strike away but is smothered by lots of yellow shirts.
3 minutes of injury time signalled
Min 90 | Villarreal, looking for some pride, get some control leading to Dos Santos pulling the trigger but it's straight at Ter Stegen.
Min 88 | Suárez has a speculative shot from outside the area and although Fernández takes a big dive to cover it was always going well wide.
Min 86 | Neymar with an audacious overhead shot-cum-cross. It's as though he really is a kid in a park, just loving what he does. As you can imagine the game is sort of petering out with Barça very much in control.
Let me quickly recap: there were subs (Mascherano for Roberto and Alba for Digne). There was also some sublime play that led up to the penalty. A one-two with his left and right feet allowed Messi to split the defence and release Neymar. But the Brazilian was deep, on the touch line, with a closing defender. Well, he made him look invisible by lifting the ball over him and then lobbing it to the back post where Suárez controlled and struck goalwards. The ball hit the very-close Costa on the high part of his arm and the whistle went. Phew!
Min 80 | Penalty for Barça. PAN-EN-KA from cheeky Messi
Min 77 | Chance for Villarreal as Ter Stegen tries to help out his defence outside the area and fails. But with the goal gaping, Bakambu and Sansone can't get a hold of the ball and the danger is gone. On another night, Barça's man between the sticks could have really cost them.
Min 75 | A much more open game now and Barça are looking dangerous as they get more space to do their stuff up top. Neymar gets played in on goal but his chip (normally so sublime) is rather pathetic.
Min 73 | Bakambu with a break, using his pace down the inside left flank and as he gets closed down inside the box he does a step-over and gets a shot away but it's blocked to harmlessdom.
Min 72 | Subs: Castillejo and Sansone coming on for Soldado and Soriano.
Just as we were seeing the game balance out, Barça get a free-kick for offside, take it quickly and as Roberto bombs down the right, Suárez takes up a good position, is fed, beats his man and drills it in off the keeper.
Min 68 | GOOOAAAL! Suárez makes it one each for the MSN
Min 66 | After that constant, and menacing, flow towards the Villarreal goal the heatmap has balanced out a little and we're seeing some more play in Barça half.
Min 64 | Chance here for Villarreal as Iniesta gives away a free-kick about 27 yards out and centre. Dos Santos this time...sails well above Ter Stegen and the crossbar.
Min 62 | Villarreal get some respite as they have possession in the opponents half. A break looks possible but Soldado, not for the first time, lingers and loses it.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that Neymar has had some wonderfully skillful moments tonight, often not leading to anything, but great to watch if you like that kind of thing.
Min 58 | More and more action in the visitors' area as Barça look to kill-off the game. Neymar breaks into the left-side, shows beautiful balance and timing to let the defender fall for a non-touch then centres the ball. Cleared.
Min 57 | Chance! Messi controls Neymar's pass and as it bounces up thwacks it with his right foot. Tipped over by Fernández. Corner leads to Suárez offside.
Min 54 | Neymar wants a piece of that left-sided freedom and almost like an infant trying to sneak into the forbidden playroom pulls himself away from the ball-watching defence. By the time Messi does play him in though there is cover and nothing comes of it.
Min 52 | Digne making inroads to the left side of the box again. He shows he's a quick learner as he pulls it back this time for the waiting Suárez but his shot is blocked by the yellow second skin he seems to be wearing.
Min 50 | Iniesta drops a perfectly weighted pass in behind Dos Santos in the area and Digne has a chance to centre dangerously or shot high, wide and wastefully. The score hasn't changed.
Min 48 | Even against the Spanish champions, the desire to play out from the back is hardly diminished. They may start to go longer, quicker.
Min 46 | Nice controlled, purposed start from the off from Villarreal then good pressing on the left allows Neymar to break. He dummies and cuts into the box but can't get the ball across the six-yard area as Fernández smothers in goal.
Peeeeeeeeep! Second half underway with Villarreal shooting left to right as we look.
The teams are back out on the field and we've all had some refreshments. Who's ready to go more?...
Barcelona - Villarreal: first half summary
It's been the game many predicted: Villarreal looking to make it tough for their more illustrious hosts and hoping to get chances on the break. Most of Barça's chances have fallen to the MSN with Messi and Neymar not only getting the best of these but also have taken one each. Slackness at the back for Barça, rather than anything of signifcant note from Villarreal, was the biggest threat to them keeping a lead and Luis Enrique will surely be reminding his side that a goal-rush is not required for their title ambitions. Three points are.
Here's how it played out...
Min 45+1 | Peepity peep. Half-time
Collecting the ball on the front right of the area, about 22 yards out, he beats one, then moves across the outside of the box until about level with the left-hand upright. His shot is strong but a slight deflection takes it back to the right leaving Fernández helpless. That's Messi's 50th this season in all comps.
Min 45 | GOOOAAAAALLL!! Messi scores such a Messi goal.
Min 43 | Villarreal's defence gets a little breather as Soldado gets hold of the ball in Barça's half. Break looked on but he bought a foul instead. Trigueros hits the 30+ yarder but doesn't connect and Ter Stegen gathers.
Min 41 | Ney-rly! Messi feeds his Brazilian striker partner on the left (and is then knocked to the floor), Neymar sorts out his feet but then slightly scuffs it across goal when he was hoping for the far post.
Min 39 | Chance: Piqué, as the new striker, is picked out at the back post by Messi from the right but needed an extra inch or so. High over the bar.
Min 37 | Barça playing a lot through the centre: Messi, Iniesta, Rakitic... all looking for killer through ball. Not an easy task tonight.
Min 35 | Ter Stegen with another strange pass out. Surely he can see the opposition in bright yellow. Not punished.
Min 34 | Barça look to get back on top and have Digne played in wide on the right with plenty support centrally. Wrongly ruled offside but his pass inside was intercepted anyway.
Why on earth were Barça playing the offside line at halfway?
Min 31 | GOOOAAAALLLL!! Bakambu runs from the half-way line outpacing Digne and slots it near post passed hapless Ter Stegen.
Min 29 | Rakitic plays in Messi on the inside left of the Villarreal area, the Argentine takes it in his stride and from a tight angle throws his left boot at it but it runs harmlessly across goal.
Min 28 | Costa swings the ball in from the right after neat play from Dos Santos. Bakambu doesn't get full head on it.
Min 26 | First corner to the guests. Nothing comes of it.
Min 24 | Villarreal try to push forward. New attitude required.
For once the game was stretched and Messi was able to collect the ball inside the area. He looks up and rolls it centrally to Neymar who stabs home. Suggestion that a ball-playing part of his body was offside. Tight either way.
Min 21 | GOOOAAAALLL! Messi to Neymar and tucked home
Min 20 | Poor FK from Messi, lifted up over the wall but never a threat.
Min 18 | Handball and yellow (González) providing a great FK chance. Messi and Neymar stand over it just outside the box, central. It's straight into keeper's hands.
Min 16 | Villarreal are set-up to stop Barça scoring but they have the ability to break if given the chance. Touch of genius may be required for the home side to trouble Fernández' goal.
Min 14 | First scare for Barça. Ter Stegen nonchelantly plays out to Digne and Dos Santos is on him in a flash and takes the ball off his toes, heads down the right wing and fires it across goal. Cleared...nervously.
Min 12 | Iniesta gets an ounce of space and plays that very Iniesta type of pass into Suárez. Again the door is quickly closed on him.
Min 11 | Messi horribly miscontrols. Surely worth a mention. Haven't written it before.
Min 10 | Generally patient from Barça as they look to find a key pass to open up the final third.
Min 7 | With the home side also looking to close down high up the pitch, Villarreal make some neat interplay to work it around and free. Clear shape to the game already...intriguing for watching tactical analysts.
Min 6 | No surprise that even with the talent on show in blaugrana, they're not finding it easy to create any chances against this well-drilled team in yellow. Long way to go, of course.
Min 4 | The Submarine is choosing when to put on the high-press and when to compact things in the middle of the park. Press on Ter Stegen and Pique leads to the latter hoofing it long and losing possession.
Min 3 | Villarreal eventually get some time on the ball. Trigueros tries to open it out to the left but good pressure from Barça wins it back again.
Min 1 | Composed start from the home side as you'd expect and the ball is played around until long diagonal attempted for the running Suárez but too far ahead of him.
Barcelona v Villarreal: live stream build-up
18:33 | Now we're underway...
18:29 | OK, handshakes, line-up poses, photos, training tops off. Time to get down to business. Sanchez Martinez throws a coin in the air and...it'll be Barça to get us underway. Oh, no. Tribute to Carlos Naval first
18:22 | The main threat to the Barça backline is likely to be Bakumbu. If he can grass ahead, watch him go.
18:18 | There'll be plenty of eyes on the visiting Manu Trigueros. A cracking player and where better to show his worth than at the home of the Spanish champions.
18:16 | As the teams get ready to come out onto the field a quick look at the two benches:
Barcelona: Denis, Turan, Cillessen, Mascherano, Paco Alcacer, Jordi Alba, Andre Gomes.
Villarreal: Adrian, Sansone, Castillejo, Rukavina, Bonera, Borre, Barbosa.
18:15 | Quarter of an hour to go until kick-off. Camp Nou bathed in sunshine, fans taking to their seats. Madrid fans turning on their live-feeds with the hand without the crossed fingers.
18:10 | A win for the Submarine tonight would be their fourth on the trot and would be their best under Escriba.
18:07 | The MSN attack has contributed 100+ goals to Barcelona's cause in the last two seasons and two more tonight would complete a ton-hat-trick. You won't get a lot for your money if it happens...even against the second tightest defence in the league.
18:04 | Looking at the XI, only Digne, it could be argued, would not start in Luis Enrique's preferred team. Strong side out too for Escriba and Bakambu is on-fire.
18:01 | The big news for home fans, actually away fans too, is that Iniesta starts. There were doubts before but that certainly adds to the bookies belief that a three-point lead will be Barça's by the time Madrid kick-off tonight.
17:53 | The teams are out...
Barcelona vs Villarreal: confirmed starting teams
Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen, Umtiti, Pique, Digne, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi, Suarez
Villarreal XI: Fernández, Costa, González, Musacchio, Mario, Trigueros, Rodri, Dos Santos, Soldado, Soriano, Bakambu
17:40 | One of the teams sitting between this evening's Camp Nou opponents have just taken a valuable lead at home to Eibar. If Atlético can hold on - Saúl with the goal - it would almost certainly ensure a third-place finish after Sevilla dropped two points last night.
15:55 | Athletic Club would have the chance to sneak into fifth place if they beat Alavés in tomorrow's midday game and Villarreal lose today. The Bilbaínos are only one point behind Villarreal in the table - level on points with their regional neighbours Real Sociedad, who held Sevilla to a draw last night.
15:15 | Villarreal have only won once at Camp Nou in the league. On target in that March 2008 meeting was Marco Senna, whose opener from the penalty spot was cancelled out by Xavi. But Jon Dahl Tomasson had the final say, tapping in the winner with 10 minutes to play - one of the 7 goals he scored for the 'Submarine' that season.
14:45 | Visiting coach Fran Escriba admits that the Camp Nou fixture "is the most difficult game of the season" for his side. "Barça have scored over 100 goals already, and that's just unreal. That is a good indication of the tremendous level their attack has and the squad in general. But we are finishing the season well and my players are confident".
14:15 | Future Barça signing? Usain Bolt confirms he plans to look for an "ambitious" team when he calls time on his athletics carrer in August.
13:50 | In a recent Adidas promotional event, defender Jordi Alba offered his view on the Messi v Cristiano debate.
13:00 | A boost for Barça with the welcome return of Iniesta
12:30 | The big story surrounding Barcelona today is the news that Leo Messi has apparently rejected the club's first renovation offer.
11:50 | Here's our weekly LaLiga predictions. How do we see tonight's game at Camp Nou going?
10:20 | Don't miss out on the action at Camp Nou with our cut out and keep "How and where to watch guide".
10:15 | Good morning and welcome to our build-up ahead of today's 18:30 start at Camp Nou as Barcelona welcome the "Yellow Submarine" to the Catalan capital.
Barcelona vs Villarreal: match preview
With only three league games remaining for Barcelona, they know that a slip up at the Camp Nou on Saturday night would almost certainly kiss goodbye to their hopes of retaining the Liga title. Sitting six points behind Sevilla, currently in the final Champions League place, Villarreal still harbour hopes of reaching European football's promised land, however they also have an eye on those behind them who could ensure they don't compete outside national competitions next year.
Barcelona team news
It is highly unlikely that Luis Enrique plays with fire against a volatile Villarreal side that could trouble Barcelona's LaLiga challenge. He is set to name his very best starting eleven with Neymar returning from suspension and featuring against Espanyol, and with Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto as the two full-backs in a 4-3-3 setup.
The only question mark lies over Andres Iniesta's name. The midfielder has missed a large chunk of the season with a variety of injuries that stemmed mostly from a knee injury sustained against Valencia in October of last year. He trained on Friday meaning he is in contention for a start depending on the manager's decision.
Luis Enrique had all of his players available in the team's final training season with Carles Aleñá, Marlon Santos and Àlex Carbonell joining in but none are expected to start the second last game of the season at the Camp Nou. Luis Enrique and everyone involved in the club knows the importance of three points in this game. There is no doubt that this is the toughest.
Villarreal team news
Villarreal's Fran Escriba names his 19 for the trip to Barcelona and will be without four players for the trip. Sergio Asenjo remains incapacitated with a cruciate knee injury along with Denis Cheryshev, who has been out since February and will remain so, it seems for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Victor Ruiz is out with damage to his left ankle and Bruno Soriano, the main man in the middle for the team is out with tendinitis of his left knee. Rodrigo looks like to replace Bruno alongside Trigueros while Gonzalez could continue in place of Ruiz
Barcelona vs Villarreal: live betting odds
A home win is the bookies' choice at around evens but if you're looking for a little more value why not predict a closely fought away victory and turn €10 into €170. The first goalscorer market again goes with the obvious frontmen in blaugrana but Bakambu to put the visitors ahead at 13/1 may tempt some. Another interesting bet is Andres Iniesta to score first with the club legend hoping to return to action. 15/1 is the price at the time of writing.