Looking to bounce back after the painful Copa del Rey exit midweek, Barcelona hosted Villarreal on Sunday night in a relatively early kickoff. The Yellow Submarines, in crisis themselves, arrived in Montjuic desperate for a win, setting up a clash between two out-of-form sides.
Xavi opted for a relatively conservative lineup on the night, beginning with Inaki Pena in goal and the Ronald Araujo-Andreas Christensen central defence combination. Jules Kounde and Hector Fort started at the right and left back respectively.
Ilkay Gundogan, Oriol Romeu and Frenkie de Jong started in midfield while Joao Felix, Lamine Yamal and Robert Lewandowski started in the final third.
The away side got the proceedings underway at Estadio Olimpic de Lluis Companys and immediately looked to charge on the attack. After all, Barcelona have had a knack for conceding early this season.
Just three minutes into the game, the Yellow Submarines had the ball in the back of the net through Alex Baena. The Spaniard knocked the ball past Inaki Pena from a difficult angle, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
Barcelona’s first half-chance arrived just a minute later, albeit not half as close as Vlillarreal’s recent threat. Yamal laid the ball off for Gundogan who shot first time, but Cuenca’s timely block denied the hosts. Four minutes later, the German supplied the 16-year-old with a lovely pass but nothing came off it.
Xavi’s men had their biggest chance of the half at the quarter-hour mark when Joao Felix received the ball on the edge of the area. Shooting from a distance, his strike took a deflection on its way only for an acrobatic save from Jorgensen denying it a top-corner slot.
From that point in, Villarreal returned to life in spurts. They enjoyed their periods of dominance and created threats on the counter, even testing the Catalan defence on numerous occasions.
Ilias Akomach came close to creating a big chance for Villarreal in the 19th minute but was denied by Araujo’s timely intervention. The visitors’ attacks only intensified thereafter, as they had the ball in the back of the net once more in just the 22nd minute.
On this occasion, it was Gerard Moreno who capitalised on the Blaugranas’ inability to clear the ball and brought the ball under his control. Moving away from the defenders, he shot from a tight angle and opened the scoring, but it was ruled out instantly for a foul and obstruction.
As the half progressed, Barcelona’s attacks did not bear much fruit in the final third as they struggled to find their way past the yellow defence. Villarreal, meanwhile, dominated in chances and even forced a save from Pena in the 36th minute.
The game’s first official goal eventually arrived in minute 41. It stemmed from a well-worked throw-in routine wherein the ball fell at the feet of Alexander Sorloth. The forward played a low pass towards Moreno who was free in front of the goal and thumped it into the back of the net.
Heading into half-time, Xavi’s men were staring at a deficit, not for the first time this season. Yet, it was evident that they were the inferior side in terms of quality, and confidence and that a lot had to change.
Xavi made three changes after the break, bringing on Joao Cancelo, Pedri and Pau Cubarsi for Hector Fort, Oriol Romeu and Andreas Christensen respectively.
Barcelona began the second half with intent and rolled the ball forward regularly in attack. Yamal’s cross to the centre did not find either Araujo or Felix in the 49th minute, but the pressure from the hosts was slowly building.
The situation, however, only worsened as the Catalans failed to defend at their own end. Cancelo’s inability to deal with a Villarreal cross saw him hit the ball straight to La Masia graduate Ilias Akomach. The youngster craft fully made his way past Pena and slotted the ball into the goal, doubling Villarreal’s lead.
Joao Felix came off for Ferran Torres in the 58th minute.
The hour mark brought a much-needed spark in Barcelona’s night. It all began with Torres’ counter and forward pass. Lewandowski’s poor control deflected the ball into Gundogan’s path, and the German struck a finish of gold from a distance to bring one back for the hosts.
The treble-winning captain’s goal activated a new lease of life for Barcelona as the Blaugranas suddenly began creating chances with more intent.
Yamal came close to scoring a minute after the goal before Ferran Torres missed a 1v1 three minutes later. The momentum had shifted, and it was only a question if Barcelona could capitalise on the same.
The big moment arrived not too long later. Yamal’s shot from a tight angle deflected off Gundogan and fell into Pedri’s path. The youngster fired a low strike past Jorgensen, levelling the scoreline in Montjuic in the 68th minute.
The scenes at Montjuic three minutes later screamed ecstasy. Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick delivery was turned in by Ronald Araujo’s dominant header, giving the hosts a 3-2 lead on the night.
Vitor Roque came on for Robert Lewandowski in the 77th minute. The youngster had his first big chance just four minutes later but was denied by an alert Jorgensen.
The game turned on its head once again in the 83rd minute. Villarreal’s ruthless counter exposed the host’s vulnerable defence, gifting Guedes a 1v1 chance. The Portuguese striker did not need more than half the chance as he struck the ball past Pena with relative ease.
Xavi’s men had a golden chance to take the lead when Jorgensen spilt the ball in the box from a corner. The ball, however, did not come close to the post.
The drama at Montjuic only grew when Barcelona won a penalty in the penultimate minute. Gundogan’s volley struck Santi Comesana’s arm in the area, prompting the referee to give the hosts a penalty. VAR review, however, ruled the penalty out bizarrely.
Villarreal emphatically scored the final minute of the game through Sorloth almost anti-climactically. The visiting team capitalised on Barcelona’s mess up in the box and won a series of shots on goal. Sorloth’s eventually, was the one to strike the winning blow.
Villarreal buried the game with a fifth goal by Jose Luis Morales in a late counter.
The game ended 5-3 with the the visitors stealing away in the nth minute. The result sees Xavi’s men drop three more points in the league race, now ten points behind Real Madrid.