Vila-real, Spain, Apr 25 (EFE).- Two goals from Antoine Griezmann led Barcelona to a 2-1 come from behind road win over Villarreal in a well-played, but contentious, match in which the Catalan squad’s victory puts pressure on La Liga leaders Atletico de Madrid in the run for the title.
The match was played at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real, Spain, before empty stands due to coronavirus gathering restrictions.
All the tallies came in the first half, with Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze scoring first in the 27th minute, but Griezmann evening things up just one minute later, and seven minutes after that finding the twine a second time for the final result.
The match started off intensely, with both teams exerting themselves to get the jump on their rivals, with Villarreal perhaps showing more verve even though it was Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong who fired a shot on goal first from almost point-blank range only to be stymied by one of the best stops of the season by local goaltender Sergio Asenjo.
Over the next quarter-hour, Barcelona seemed to dominate on the attack with Messi in charge of the offensive and Dest and Jordi Alba very active and incisive on the wings.
The two teams showed great speed in their execution, and ultimately Villarreal managed to get on the board first when Chukwueze, on a great pass from Pau Torres and then a marvelous individual effort, zipped away from Alba and got around Marc-Andre ter Stegen to drive one in from the angle.
Barcelona, however, wasted no time in responding, with Griezmann getting an assist from Oscar Mingueza and then nicely sending the ball over Asenjo into the corner.
Griezmann’s second precision tally came when Villarreal’s Juan Foyth could have been credited with an assist by failing to spot him and playing him through trying for a pass-back to Asenjo.
Neither team seemed to be able to truly dominate during most of the back and forth, but just after the hour mark Barca got a break when Manu Trigueros was booted on a red card for fouling Messi as the pair battled for the ball and the hosts were a man short from then on.
Nevertheless Barca was not able to decisively assert itself, despite the 11-10 advantage and Villarreal readjusted and kept up its pressure, albeit with a slightly lower level of intensity.
Right up until the end, Unai Emery’s squad never quit looking for the tying tally, although Barcelona continued to search out a third goal, but neither squad could get the one-up again and the match ended as the first half had ended.
With the win, Barcelona is – perhaps temporarily – just two points behind Atletico de Madrid and will go up against the current league leaders on May 8 after facing off against Granada and Valencia in the meantime. The team started off the season with four wins, four losses and two draws but now has won 18 of its last 22 matches, its only loss coming to Real Madrid on April 10 in El Clasico.
Atletico could pull five points ahead of Ronald Koeman’s squad again if it can defeat Bilbao later on Sunday.
Villarreal: Asenjo, Foyth, Pau Torres, Albiol (Mario Gaspar, m.89), Alberto Moreno (Estupiñan, m.60), Chukwueze (Yeremi Pino, m.89), Capoue (Moi Gomez, m76), Parejo, Trigueros, Gerard Moreno and Alcacer (Coquelin, m.60)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Mingueza, Pique, Lenglet, Dest (Sergi Roberto, m.46), Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets (Araujo, m.88), Pedri (Ilaix Moriba, m.64), Jordi Alba, Messi and Griezmann (Dembele, m.79)
Referee: Del Cerro Grande showed yellow cards to Villarreal’s Albiol and Pau Torres and to Barcelona’s Griezmann, Busquets and Minguez. He expelled Villarreal’s Manu Trigueros in the 65th minute.