Back to winning ways with a near-perfect performance. A match summary of the Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona.
Barcelona visited Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica conscious that, even by winning, the La Liga title would be as far away as before. With three draws in four matches, the latest one being a 2–2 against Atlético de Madrid, Barça already were four points behind leaders Real Madrid. Seven points, in fact, considering Madrid had beaten Athletic Club earlier on Sunday. But, even if Los Blancos continue to have a big advantage, Quique Setién’s team needed to get the job done, win, and get their confidence back. Barcelona ticked all boxes.
After two draws in a somewhat broken system, Quique Setién opted for a more organised tactical set-up, where everyone would feel freer and more at ease. A 4–3–1–2 with more movement, where Lionel Messi was in behind the strikers and the full-backs given more offensive freedom would always work against an open but valiant Villarreal side.
The first goal came early, and it was already better from Griezmann than anything post-pandemic. His impressive movement opened the way for Jordi Alba to pass it back to him into space, but Pau Torres passed it into his own goal. After a few moments of control, Barcelona’s lack of concentration cost them, and a lighting-quick counter-attack from Villarreal came their way. Paco Alcácer’s pass opened the way for Santi Cazorla. Marc-André ter Stegen parried Cazorla’s shot, but Gerard Moreno rifled it in.
All smiles for Barcelona | Photo by José Jordán / AFP via Getty Images
After that goal, everything came together for Barça. First, Lionel Messi’s insane skills ended in a pass for Luis Suárez, and the Uruguayan striker placed it in the top corner delicately. Paco Alcácer was forced to come off, and Arturo Vidal missed a golden chance, but the half didn’t end there. Following another magical Messi dribbling moment, he backheeled it to Griezmann, who chipped it in Sergio Asenjo’s nets. A peach of a goal. All in all, a superb half for Barça, perhaps spoilt by the lack of concentration in Villarreal’s only goal.
The second half began much like the first played out. Barcelona controlled the game although they lost their finishing touch and it could’ve backfired. True, Luis Suárez had a golden chance and should have squared it to Griezmann, but Villarreal had opportunities, and especially Samuel Chukwueze. Ter Stegen spoilt the Nigerian’s night and kept Barça afloat when they needed reinsurance. Sergio Asenjo also saved Villarreal on many occasions, such as his save on substitute Martin Braithwaite’s header after a Messi free-kick had landed on the bar late in the game. He saved Villarreal from a manita and further humiliation.
For Quique Setién, he played his cards well and at the right time, with Luis Suárez departing the pitch early and Sergio Busquets, Antoine Griezmann and Gerard Piqué following them a few moments later. Come in Riqui Puig, who had another impressive display, and all the runners with young legs, like him, Ansu Fati and Ronald Araújo, all had their moments to shine. Setién tried to go all out with his subs to dynamise the game a bit, attacking Villarreal a bit more and pressing with the youngsters on the pitch.
It worked just before Ansu and Braithwaite came on when Messi scored a superb goal, after an insane sequence of passes. Ultimately, though, Arturo Vidal was offside, and VAR disallowed the goal. Sergi Roberto’s performance at the centre of the pitch or right-back was another high for the Catalan giants. Ansu added to a night of positives with his crisp finish after Jordi Alba spotted his run with a delicious chip pass. The 17-year-old scored he 9,000th goal in the club’s history.
It was surely Quique Setién’s best game with Barça, and there are so many positives to take from that match such as Antoine Griezmann, the system, Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati. Superb.
Mario Gaspar · Albiol · Pau Torres · Alberto Moreno
Chukwueze · Zambo Anguissa · Iborra (45′ Bruno Soriano) · Cazorla (56′ Trigueros)
Gerard Moreno (45′ Moi Gómez) · Alcácer (36′ Bacca, 71′ Fernando Niño)
Goals: 14′ Gerard Moreno
Semedo (60′ Rakitić) · Piqué (82′ Araújo) · Lenglet · Jordi Alba
Vidal · Busquets (72′ Braithwaite) · Sergi Roberto
Griezmann (72′ Ansu Fati) · Suárez (60′ Riqui Puig)
Goals: 3′ Pau Torres (OG), 20′ Suárez, 45′ Griezmann, 87′ Ansu Fati
That brings an end to the match summary of the Villarreal 1–4 Barcelona.
Three talking points from Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
In the final edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 domestic campaign, Barcelona incurred their fifth defeat of the league campaign. It was end-to-end stuff in the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, as an exceptional first-half performance from the hosts was followed up by a tantalizing second from Barça.
This game had everything someone could ask for in a Clásico. There was controversy, passion, goals and for the first time in a few years, a red card was the cherry on the top. These are Barca Universal’s takeaways from the game in the capital.
Real Madrid’s efficiency on show
With four shots on target, 1.58 Expected Goals, and two goals to their name, Real Madrid put to show their sheer efficacy in front of goal, as well as in defence. For the first half at least, Zinédine Zidane’s men were always at the right place, at the right time making all the right movements and to devastating effect.
Los Blancos‘ philosophy is one of winning, and doing so regardless of how the victory is earned. Contrary to the Catalans, who not only need to win, but also do it a certain way, Los Merengues are more than capable of abandoning their usually proactive approach to games in favour of a more reactive one. The fact that they are not bound to a specific ideology makes winning matches one of the simplest of tasks.
They held the ball for only 32% of the game, which goes completely against what a majority would expect them to. At the end of the day, however, possession matters significantly less than what one does with it. With every lapse in concentration from the Garnet and Blue, Madrid had enough men forward, and well enough positioned, to hit them where it hurt.
Despite the relatively low xG, they had enough big chances to even lead 4-0 come the halftime whistle. When it came to defending, their tight-knit defence, in stark contrast to that of their rivals, barely broke a sweat. They imposed an impenetrable low block, and applied a collective press to force as many errors as they could.
In addition to this, Zidane has the luxury of having a starting eleven of devastatingly versatile footballers in his arsenal. Fede Valverde for instance was as much a right-back as he was a central midfielder and a winger. He executed each role to pristine perfection, and so did his peers to ensure all 3 points, and bragging rights stayed in Madrid.
Excellent mentality shift
Following such a harrowing performance in the first half, few, if any, could have expected Barcelona to mount a comeback. Had this been any other team, that would have been possible, but given Real Madrid’s first-half performance, this was all but envisageable.
Indeed, the Catalans did fail to get any points from the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, however, the sheer mentality they showed in the second half was a sight for sore eyes. Ronald Koeman made the necessary adjustments to the side, reverting to the 4-3-3 and with it, they wrought trouble in the Madrid backline.
Lionel Messi celebrating the goal. pic.twitter.com/ZX1HzWSqAR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 10, 2021
If in the first half Barça seemed caged in endless cycles of worthless possession, then in the second they made thorough use of it. The Blaugrana created eleven chances for themselves in the second period, and while doing this, they in turn limited Los Blancos to just a single shot on goal for the entirety of the half; a complete turnover from their performance in the opening 45 minutes.
It was nail-biting stuff up until the final second of the game, as Ilaix Moriba’s volleyed effort struck the underside of the crossbar. Given the overall performance from both sides, a draw would have been a considerably fairer result, but even in defeat with this version of Barça, the players and fans know that they can keep their heads held high.
A game of fine margins
Games of the magnitude of El Clásico will forever be decided by the most minute of details and the same was the case here.
The first significant one was the frame of the goal. In the first half, following the umpteenth counter attack from Real Madrid, Fede Valverde, who up until then was having yet another phenomenal showing against Barcelona, struck the frame of the post with a shot that crucially bounced underneath Sergio Busquets.
In the second half, Ronald Araújo nearly scored an own goal, but with Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, the ball rolled delicately onto the post and out for a corner. In the final minute of the match, and with Madrid fighting for their lives, Ilaix Moriba struck the underside of the crossbar to end this sensational tie on an emotional high.
Jordi Alba has often been criticized for being just as much a blessing offensively as he is a curse defensively. In the build-up to the hosts’ opener, he had one task to fulfill: mark his opposing fullback. This is one he absolutely failed, as he drifted too far inside, and by the time he had noticed his error, Lucas Vázquez already had Karim Benzema in his sights. Too little, too late.
The final significant detail was in the goal that won Los Blancos the game. After what many consider a poorly given free-kick from the referee’s standpoint, Toni Kroos surely could not believe his eyes when he saw the sheer state of Barça’s wall. Marc André Ter Stegen’s poor leadership of his defenders left him utterly vulnerable, and his German counterpart spared him no blushes, slotting it home to seal the victory for his side.