A homage to Tito Vilanova at Estadio El Madrigal -- from the fans, hosts, and visitors alike. A nearly full house on hand to see what is typically a lively encounter. For the most part, Villarreal did not disappoint.
But in a late collapse, Barcelona scored one goal, was gifted two, and the referee did not share the spoils with the home side. Almost beyond belief, Barcelona's La Liga title hopes stayed alive with a 2-3 victory. However, the main event occurred in the 76th minute.
Five notes on the match in honor of the five goals:
- Cani 1-0 45'. Barcelona started on the front foot, but in spite of an extensive possession edge, Villarreal came into the match. Lionel Messi had one clear-cut chance, but Sergio Asenjo's feet came to the rescue. Marcelino García Toral was forced into two injury substitutions: Jony Pereira for Jérémy Perbet and Javier Aquino for Tomás Pina, and then the Yellow Submarine started to look menacing. Jony was instrumental in the opening goal, feeding a streaking Rubén Cani down the middle of the pitch. One pass into the lower 90 later, and Villarreal had the lead on the stroke of halftime.
- Manu 2-0 55'. The second half began, and the hosts remained full of confidence. Barcelona again took control of play, but the Villarreal response was a thunderbolt. Cani sprung a counter, found Aquino in acres of space, and the somewhat-maligned Mexican picked out a surging Manu Trigueros near the penalty spot. Manu had a lot to do, but rather than control and strike with his feet, he delivered a powerful header into the upper 90. A flailing Pinto could only watch it sail by, and the El Madrigal faithful was exuberant.
- Gabriel (o.g.) 2-1 65'. Champions do not quit, and particularly not on this day, as Barcelona continued to hem in the Yellow Submarine. Dani Alves was the unwitting, undeserving, and unfortunate protagonist of the next stretch of the match -- one of his numerous crosses hit Bojan Jokic on its way into the box. That deflection crossed up Gabriel Paulista, who then played the ball into his own net with a backheel-like motion. Couldn't have drawn it up any better for Barcelona, and the lead was halved.
- Musacchio (o.g.) 2-2 78'. As a Villarreal fan, one felt comfortable with a quarter-hour remaining. With Barcelona in need of two goals to keep their dreams alive for one more jornada, the counterattacking Submarino should have had space, and the fresher legs of Jony and Aquino should have been able to exploit it. But then came the incident involving Alves -- read more here. And wouldn't you know, another Alves cross was unbelievably turned past Asenjo by...Barcelona transfer target Mateo Musacchio. A horrendous gaffe, and the air went out of El Madrigal.
- Messi 2-3 83'. With the match now of secondary importance, and the boys in yellow gasping for breath, the visitors moved in for the kill. After the umpteenth close call from a free kick, forcing yet another brilliant Asenjo intervention, a nice move ended up with just Messi and our heroic goalkeeper in close quarters. Finally Barcelona beat him, but there was more drama to come just seconds later at the other end. Sergio Busquets clattered Aquino while in the air over the edge of the box -- the assistant immediately appeared to signal for a penalty. The referee initially appeared to agree, but after some discussion, the call was a booking and a free kick at the edge of the box. And that was as close as Villarreal would come to an equalizer. 2-3 at full time.
On to Sevilla, but not before a lot of soul-searching (we hope) at the club and in Spanish football. Endavant Villarreal!