Villarreal, Spain, Jul 5 (efe-epa).- Barcelona on Sunday was in its best form since La Liga play resumed after the coronavirus quarantine at La Ceramica stadium, defeating host Villarreal 4-1 and negating Real Madrid’s win over Athletic Bilbao earlier in the day, still chasing the league leaders by four points in the shortening run to the Spanish First Division soccer title.
Villarreal had been unbeaten since play resumed after the lockdown, but Leonel Messi seemed to be everywhere – and at all the right places at all the right times – for the Catalan squad, causing unmitigated havoc for the defense.
The match could not have started better for Barcelona with an own goal by Pau Torres just three minutes into play after a good effort by Sergi Roberto whereupon Jordi Alba centered looking for Griezmann but the visiting team got on the board when Torres tried to clear.
The tally was the start of a domination workshop by Barca, who had significantly better offensive presence than Javi Calleja’s boys, but the locals did manage to tie things up 13 minutes in after the Catalonians lost the ball and Gerard Moreno managed to sink it after Ter Stegen cleared a shot on goal.
The game took on a headlong rhythm with both teams seeking access to their rivals’ net, but Quique Setien’s squad went ahead again in the 20th minute on a well-manufactured goal by Luis Suarez after a great individual effort by Messi.
The rhythm, however, did not slacken at that point but rather picked up steam, yet it was Barca who showed the greater authority on the pitch, with Griezmann finding the twine just a minute before the break after some brilliant play by Messi and considerable pressure being exerted by the Catalonians.
Although Calleja tried to recover the home squad’s momentum after the break at midfield, the game settled down and took on a calmer tone with Villarreal managing to stop the hemorrhaging of its defense but Barcelona largely maintaining control of the ball – and the match – for the remainder.
All in all, Barcelona put on its best face since La Liga play resumed and Villarreal, which until now had only given up two of the points it could have garnered, struggled, especially in the second half when trying to go on the attack.
With the game already decided, Ansu Fati notched the fourth goal for the visitors in the 86th minute, and only assiduous work by home goaltender Sergio Asenjo kept Barca from going even further ahead late in play.
Although Real Madrid had gone out in front of Barca by seven points in the capital squad’s road victory earlier on Sunday over Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona was not to be denied in its own road match cancelling that advantage with its three-point result.
Villarreal: Asenjo, Gaspar, Albiol, Pau Torres, Alberto Moreno, Iborra (Bruno Soriano, m.46), Anguissa, Cazorla (Manu Trigueros, m.56), Chukwueze, Alcacer (Carlos Bacca, m.36/Fer Niño, m.71) and Gerard Moreno (Moi Gpmez, m.46).
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo (Rakitic, m.59), Pique (Araujo, m.82), Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Busquets (Ansu Fati, m.73), Vidal, Sergi Roberto, Griezmann (Braithwaite, m.73), Messi and Luis Suarez (Riqui Puig, m.59).
Goals: 0-1, m.3: Pau Torres, own goal. 1-1, m.13: Gerard Moreno. 1-2, m.20: Luis Suarez. 1-3, m.44: Griezmann. 1-4, m.87: Ansu Fati.
Referee: Del Cerro Grande showed yellow cards to Villarreal’s Pau Torres and to Barcelona assistant coach Eder Sarabia.