Barcelona thrash Villarreal, Asenjo prevents heavier defeat
Villarreal 1-4 Barcelona: as it happened
It's all over at the Estadio de la Cerámica, where Villarreal have been well beaten by a Barcelona side who have produced by far their best performance since Quique Setién took charge.
Indeed, although the visitors have come away with four goals - with Antoine Griezmann's in-off-the-bar chip the pick of the bunch - they could easily have scored double that. That they did not is in no small measure down to Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Fine performance notwithstanding, tonight's is unlikely to be a result that affects the outcome of the title race, given that Real Madrid retain a four-point lead at the top and also have the head-to-head advantage over Barça.
Had Barcelona not won, though, they would certainly have been out of it. This at least keeps their slim hopes alive. It is just a shame for the Catalans that they could not play like this sooner.
For Villarreal, meanwhile, it is a first defeat since LaLiga's return from suspension, bringing an end to an impressive sequence that had yielded five wins and a draw and taken Javi Calleja's men to within three points of the Champions League places.
Now, however, fourth-placed Sevilla can double their points advantage over the Submarino Amarillo if they beat Eibar on Monday evening.
That's all from me - thanks for reading!
Chukwueze receives inside the box and tries to twist and turn into shooting space, but he's run out of it That will surely be that.
Barça are not settling for four. First, Messi plays a one-two with Roberto, advances into the box and forces Asenjo into a smart near-post stop.
Messi is then felled on the edge of the Villarreal box, and has a free-kick chance 25 yards or so from goal. It's in a position from which, by my count, he's already scored twice before at this ground.
He clips the ball over the wall... and it bounces back off the bar! Asenjo then produces another good save to keep out Braithwaite's rebound.
Five minutes of time added on.
This one will count! Ansu Fati makes it 4-1! Released into space on the left, the young substitute takes on Albiol, cuts inside into the penalty box and sends a shot into the near corner that deceives a wrong-footed Asenjo in the Villarreal goal.
Moi Gómez gets to the byline and clips a cross to the back stick for Fer Niño, but Lenglet gets his body in the way and buys a foul off the young striker.
Barcelona make their fifth and final sub, replacing Piqué with young centre-back Ronaldo Araújo.
There's a chance for Braithwaite... but Asenjo grabs hold of the ball. Released into the box, the Dane sought to round the Villarreal keeper, but got the ball slightly stuck under his feet and was dispossessed.
Chukwueze looks to test Ter Stegen, but his effort isn't troubling the German. "We've seen very little of him in the second half," notes analyst Julio Maldonado on Spanish television.
Just as he says that, Chukwueze has an opportunity to run at a back-pedalling Barça backline and advance into the box, but he's well shepherded away from goal by Piqué, and the chance is lost.
Time for the second cooling break.
Barcelona make a double change, bringing Ansu Fati and Martin Braithwaite on for Griezmann and Busquets. That's Griezmann's best Barça performance by some distance.
Villarreal also make a substitution, Fer Niño replacing Bacca. The sub is subbed.
4-1! Messi has supplied two assists, and now he gets on the scoreshe... ah, it's ruled out for offside after a VAR check.
Messi is so close to being in on goal after exchanging passes with Rakitic on the edge of the box. Villarreal win it back, but only momentarily so, and Barça recycle it out to Roberto, who cuts it back low for the Argentine to sidefoot home.
However, it appears that Vidal was a centimetre or two offside in the build-up.
Twice Asenjo saves well! Barcelona break dangerously, and Rakitic feeds the ball across the face of the box for Vidal to slap a low shot towards the bottom corner, but the Villarreal goalkeeper is down quickly to beat it out. Moments later, Alba drives into the box and shoots low, but again Asenjo parries.
Played is stopped when Griezmann and Albiol are both left down and in pain after colliding on the halfway line. They look like they'll be OK, though.
Messi releases Griezmann to cross from the left, his ball into the box finding Puig. The youngster isn't the tallest lad on the field, to be fair, and he can't connect with the header.
That's Suárez's last involvement. Riqui Puig and Ivan Rakitic are no for Barcelona, with the Uruguayan and Nelson Semedo making way. Sergi Roberto will drop back into the right-back position vacated by Semedo.
So close from Suárez! Having been slipped in behind the Villarreal defence by Vidal's slide-rule pass, the striker skips around the onrushing Asenjo - but can't quite turn it into the net from an almost impossible angle. Goal-kick given, but Suárez thinks he should have a corner - and he's right. Asenjo got a touch.
Villarreal make another change, Cazorla making way in midfield for Manu Trigueros.
Barcelona are preparing a double substitution, it would appear.
Griezmann celebrates with Messi and Alba after scoring Barcelona's third goal.
(Photo: JOSE JORDAN / AFP)
Ufff! Messi and Griezmann combined wonderfully for Barcelona's third goal, and almost do so again for a fourth. Suárez crosses into the box for Griezmann, who chests it down for Messi to volley at goal - but the Argentine's strike doesn't have a huge amount behind it, and Asenjo grabs hold fairly comfortably.
Villarreal have made two half-time substitutions, midfielders Bruno Soriano and Moi Gómez coming on for Vicente Iborra and Gerard Moreno. Just Bacca up top for the hosts now.
No changes so far for Barcelona.
Peeep! Back underway at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
Peep peep peeeeep! What an exceedingly fun half of football that was.
Barcelona have been good, really good. Far better than in any other game under Setién. They've scored three, but could feasibly have had more.
Villarreal have seen precious little of the ball, but have not been bereft of attacking potency, either, and have managed a goal of their own.
More of the same please!
Three minutes of time added on. Barcelona have been very good tonight.
What. A. Goal.
Messi receives the ball just inside the Villarreal box and backheels it to Griezmann, who's in shooting space behind him.
Without breaking stride, the Frenchman caresses a wonderful, wonderful chip over Asenjo and in off the underside of the crossbar.
Woof! Chips that go in off the bar should count for double, in my opinion.
Suárez bends the ball home for Barcelona's second.
(Photo: David González / Diario AS)
Jordi Alba crosses low for Suárez, who's in acres of space on the penalty spot - but twice the striker's shot is blocked! Ah, it wouldn't have counted, though. Alba was offside.
Vidal should score. Griezmann's square pass across the face of the box is cleverly left by Suárez, allowing the ball to run through to the Chilean, who is all alone and has all the time in the world to advance into the area and shoot.
Vidal goes for power over placement, and Asenjo stands up well to parry. It really should be 3-1.
Bacca is straight into the action, bustling into the right-hand side of the Barcelona box and thumping a shot at goal. It's very centrally hit, however, and Ter Stegen beats it out.
Bacca is on for Alcácer.
Cazorla slips Alberto Moreno into a promising position on the edge of the Barcelona box, but the left-back's square ball to Anguissa is cut out.
Up the other end, Suárez plops a ball into the middle towards Griezmann's head, but his cross is underhit and easily dealt with.
Play resumes. Carlos Bacca is preparing to come on for Villarreal; Paco Alcácer looks to have a problem.
Chukwueze cuts inside from the right and tries to bend one into Ter Stegen's far corner, but sends his effort high.
Drinks break time.
Alberto Moreno gets into crossing space and flights one into the box and onto the head of Gerard Moreno, but the striker can't quite connect.
The hosts have been thoroughly second best so far, and one rather suspects Javi Calleja is quite keen for the cooling break to arrive so he can have a word or two with his charges.
Messi again causes panic in the Villarreal backline, wriggling through three, four, five yellow shirts before trying to exchange passes with Piqué on the edge of the box. The defender's flick can't find the Argentine, however. Messi is enjoying himself.
Blimey, Barcelona look like scoring every time they come forward. Messi slips a cute little ball wide to the left for Alba to cut it back from the byline... but this time Villarreal scramble it clear.
2-1 to Barcelona! Suárez with it!
It's magnificent attacking play by Messi, who shows excellent strength to shrug off the attentions of two yellow shirts and drives towards the box, before feeding it out to Suárez, who is arriving at pace into a shooting position on the left.
The Uruguayan then opens up his body and steers an expert finish past Asenjo and into the far top corner. Superbly taken. What an opening 20 minutes this has been.
Pau Torres is the first man into the book for a foul on Suárez just outside the Villarreal box, giving Messi an exceedingly inviting free-kick opportunity. The Argentine is usually so deadly from this kind of range, but on this occasion doesn't get a proper hold of his effort.
Close from Suárez! The Uruguayan almost gets Barcelona back in front right away, barrelling into the box and forcing Asenjo to get down sharpish to parry his low shot.
A sweeping through ball gets Paco Alcácer striding forward towards the Barcelona box. He switches the play to Santi Cazorla, who's arriving on the left-hand side, and the former Arsenal man thumps a low shot that Ter Stegen beats out - but only as far as Gerard Moreno.
All Moreno has to do is knock it into the gaping goal from the edge of the six-yard box, and knock it into the gaping goal he does. All square at the Cerámica!
"Barcelona are playing really well here," says analyst Julio 'Maldini' Maldonado on Spanish TV.
And just as I write that...
Villarreal finally get a chance to launch an attack of substance, as Vidal gives it away to Samu Chukwueze, who's got a fair bit of gas on him. However, his way forward is quickly shut off by a gaggle of turquoise shirts. Still, the home side at least get some time in possession. It's been all Barça ball so far.
It's been the perfect opening for Barcelona. Villarreal are yet to get more than a passing sniff of the ball, and it's all being played in the hosts' half.
What a start for Barcelona! That'll go down as a Pau Torres own goal. Sergi Roberto drives towards the Villarreal box and lays the ball wide to Jordi Alba, who fizzes a low cross into the danger area.
Griezmann is ready and waiting to turn it in, but defender Torres gets there ahead of the Frenchman and succeeds only in directing the ball past Sergio Asenjo and into the net!
There's an interesting change to Barcelona's attacking set-up: Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann look to be playing as a two up top, with Lionel Messi sitting in the hole just behind them.
Peeeep! Underway at the Cerámica.
Villarreal vs Barcelona: how and where to watch
If you're still wondering how you can watch tonight's game at the Estadio de la Cerámica, you may wish to avail yourself of our useful guide answering just that question:
What the coaches said: Quique Setién, Barcelona
"I don't spend a minute thinking about that [doubts about his future as Barcelona coach]. I focus on what I have to focus on, which in this case is Sunday's game. This is the circus we're involved in and we accept it, but I don't waste time listening or reading [speculation]. I know there is noise being made but I have to focus on my own job. It is not the first time that I have experienced it, nor is it the first time a coach has lived through a situation like this when they don't win a game."
What the coaches said: Javi Calleja, Villarreal
"We've got a really tough run-in, with games like Sunday's and games against direct rivals, so there's still a lot to do. We can't get carried away; we need to keep in mind that what we've managed to do is all well and good, but that we have to wait until the end of the season to celebrate achieving anything. I don't think we'll be guilty of taking our eye off the ball, though, because the players are aware of what's at stake."
(Photo: Ángel Sánchez / Diario AS)
One win in last four for Barça at Villarreal
Barça must win tonight, but recent history is not on their side: the Catalans have triumphed on only one of their last four league visits to Villarreal, when goals by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi gave them a 2-0 victory in December 2017.
The other three clashes in that sequence have all brought draws, including an absolutely thrilling 4-4 stalemate last season. With the hosts 4-2 up going into time added on, last-gasp strikes by Messi and Suárez rescued a point for the visitors in a remarkable encounter at the Cerámica.
Villarreal uptick in form all about the defence
Each of Villarreal's five wins since LaLiga resumed has brought with it a clean sheet, and it is that defensive resilience that has been the key to their rise up the table, says AS journalist Alfredo Matilla.
"The league's coronavirus suspension (a problem) allowed Calleja to rebuild (an opportunity)," Matilla wrote in his blog 'Mr Pentland' this week. "Villarreal attack the spaces in a way they didn't use to and, finally, have realised that what made them so strong under [former coach] Marcelino was their solidity.
"Now, qualification for the Europa League is in their hands and they host Barcelona with every chance of rolling them over and fuelling their dreams of claiming a Champions League spot."
Villarreal riding high
Unlike their guests, Villarreal have been in magnificently fine fettle since the LaLiga restart. A sequence of five wins and a draw has seen Javi Calleja's side surge up to fifth, with just three points now between them and Sevilla in the final Champions spot.
It all makes quite a difference to the mood at the Estadio de la Cerámica four months ago. When the league was halted back in March, the Submarino Amarillo had registered three defeats on the bounce, leaving them eighth in the table and Calleja flirting with the sack.
(Photo: Toni Rodríguez / Diario AS)
Mexit in 2021?
To make matters worse for the Blaugrana, Spanish radio station Cadena SER has reported that a fed-up Lionel Messi has called a halt to talks over a contract extension and now plans to leave when his deal expires in summer 2021...
Full details on that story are here:
Real win leaves Barça trailing by seven
Real Madrid's 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao earlier today means that second-placed Barcelona go to the Cerámica trailing the leaders by a provisional seven points.
It's been quite a turnaround at the top of the table, given that Barça were two points clear of Madrid when LaLiga returned from its suspension some three weeks ago.
Now, with just four games left to play after this weekend, a run of three draws in their last four in LaLiga has left Barça's title-challenge teetering on the brink.
Only three points will do for them tonight.
Griezmann returns for Barcelona
Having been limited to the briefest of cameos against former club Atlético Madrid on Tuesday, Antoine Griezmann returns to the Barcelona XI in one of two changes to the team that drew with Los Rojiblancos. Sergi Roberto comes in for Riqui Puig in the other.
(Photo: Albert Gea / Reuters)
Four changes for the hosts
Villarreal make four changes to the side that began the 2-0 midweek win over Real Betis, as Mario Gaspar, Santi Cazorla, Samu Chukwueze and former Barcelona striker Paco Alcácer replace Rubén Peña, Moi Gómez, Javier Ontiveros and Carlos Bacca.
By the way, if you haven't yet seen Alcácer's strike against Valencia last weekend, I wholeheartedly recommend you seek it out. A sweetly, sweetly struck volley. That said, it wasn't even the best goal of the game. Gerard Moreno's equally scrumptious volley from Santi Cazorla's cushioned lay-off has to be an awards contender.
(Photo: Jose Miguel Fernandez de Velasco / GTRESONLINE)
Barcelona team news
Starting line-up: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba, Vidal, Busquets, Roberto, Messi, Suárez, Griezmann
Substitutes: Neto, Iñaki Peña, Rakitic, Arthur, Braithwaite, Puig, Collado, Ansu Fati, Araujo, Morer, Monchu, Cuenca
Villarreal team news
Starting line-up: Asenjo, Mario, Albiol, Pau Torres, Alberto Moreno, Cazorla, Iborra, Anguissa, Chukwueze, Gerard Moreno, Alcácer
Substitutes: Fernández, Bacca, Trigueros, Morlanes, Quintilla, Peña, Bruno, Sofian, Moi, Ontiveros, Lozano, Fer Niño
Villarreal vs Barcelona: ¡hola a todos!
Welcome to our live coverage of a game Barcelona really must win if they are to have any hope of retaining their LaLiga title, as Quique Setién's men visit a decidedly in-form Villarreal team.
Kick-off is a shade under an hour away and the starting line-ups have just been announced, so let's start with tonight's team news.