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Match Recap: Barcelona 1-2 Villarreal

To quote Dragonlord below, "WHAT A GAME!!" Villarreal played perfectly to stop Barcelona's strengths, absorbing pressure and denying Barcelona's strikers in the box, while using their possession to the fullest advantage. Villarreal now lie only four points back of second in La Liga, and with Atletico and Espanyol losing on the weekend, are a comfortable six points ahead of Atletico and Racing Santander in fourth and fifth places.

Starting Lineup: Diego Lopez; Javi Venta, Gonzalo, Godin, Capdevila; Mati, Senna, Eguren, Cazorla; Pires; Guille Franco.

Pelligrini brilliantly picked his lineup and player formation to slow down Barcelona, moving into what amounted to a 4-5-1, since Pires never pushed forward into the attack. The first minutes of the match were discomforting to those of us that have watched Villarreal's defensive back line come together over the past few weeks, as Gonzalo fed the ball to Barca strikers with only Lopez to beat, and Villarreal were lucky not to be down 2-0 to start the match off. Also, Senna looked ragged early, losing possession and then foolishly diving at defenders in a poor attempt to recover. The defense pulled together, though, and Barcelona's possessions became less threatening.

Although Barcelona dominated possession for most of the first half, Guille Franco got into the head of every Barca defender before the break (and paid for it with four or five blows to the head), and the tempo was set. Finally, in the 28th minute, Villarreal got their first fluid offensive movement, and nearly got through to goal, only to be denied after some beautiful passing. Things came together for the Yellow Submarine in the 31st minute, when Guille received a pass at the top of the box with his back to the net and completed a staggeringly quick turn, along with a couple of sidesteps that left the entire defense facedown on the pitch as he squirted by them, only to be dragged down by Valdes with what could have easily been a red-card tackle in the box. The well-earned penalty was given, and Senna struck it true just right of center giving the visitors a 0-1 advantage and leaving Los Culés in shocked silence.

Over the last fifteen minutes of the half, possession was fairly balanced, and the tide of the match had turned against the home side. A sense of despair seemed to overtake many of the fans, and they let Barcelona know it.

No changes were made to either side at the break, and the match quickly seemed like it was moving towards a 0-1 final. Villarreal appeared content to play defense and counter, but did not look to be anxious about scoring a second goal. In the 64th, Guille was on fumes and was replaced by Tomasson, in an interesting move by Pelligrini, deciding not to put in Rossi or Nihat in his place. A minute later, Bojan was subbed for Henry.

Two minutes later, in the 67th, Barcelona appeared to have made the better substitution, as Barca's offense came together to set up Xavi for the match-tying goal. Gonzalo was beaten by Iniesta, and no one decided to cover Xavi who blasted home from just inside the box.

In the 71st, a frightening moment occurred when Eto'o lunged for a pass out of his reach and kicked Diego Lopez in the stomach. He stayed down for a few minutes, but recovered. In the 75th, yellow cards were piling up, and in the 76th minute, Pires was relieved with Bruno taking his place, Villarreal apparently content with a draw at the Camp Nou.

For the rest of the recap and highlights,

A draw was not in the cards, though, as the play of the match came together in the 81st minute as Eguren started a flurry of passes that ended with Eguren making a perfect touch pass back to Tomasson waiting in front of the keeper. Tomasson calmly took two touches, the second putting it in the back of the net, effectively taking the breath out of the stadium. Barcelona did not have much more in them, and except for a curling Ronaldinho free kick that hit the crossbar, they did not threaten.

The score actually should have been 1-3, after a stunning free kick from Nihat, who came on in the 86th for Mati. Valdes saved Nihat's shot, but the rebound bounced to an onside Senna who drilled it past Valdes, only to be wrongly called offside.

I will try and update this later with links, but I am late for work, so I leave grainy highlights that are likely to be taken down shortly by the powers that be.