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Villarreal 2, Barcelona 2: A Worthy Point

Villarreal stormed back from two goals down to pick up a point against Barcelona on Sunday afternoon at Estadio El Madrigal. Barcelona claimed a two-goal halftime lead with significant controversy, but the hosts pegged back the league leaders to earn a valuable point in the chase for fourth place and the final Champions League spot.

Bakambu, te queremos.
Bakambu, te queremos.
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Villarreal 2, Barcelona 2. A La Liga game that had it all -- goals, horrendous officiating, and tension until the end. A valuable point as Villarreal goes down the stretch.


Villarreal: Asenjo; Mario, Bailly, Ruíz, Rukavina; Bruno, Trigueros; Castillejo, Denis; Soldado, Bakambu. Top-drawer XI without the injured Alphonse Areola (GK), Mateo Musacchio (CB), Jaume Costa (LB), and Jonathan dos Santos (RM).

Barcelona: Bravo; S. Roberto, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitić, Busquets, Turan; Messi, Suárez, Neymar. No Andrés Iniesta but otherwise a full-strength XI.

First Half

The Yellow Submarine nearly scored in the opening minute. Cedric Bakambu was in space and floated a cross looking for Roberto Soldado. An oncoming Manu Trigueros met the tasty ball and it skidded off a Barca defender, the post, and then nestled into Claudio Bravo's arms. An early let-off.

Bakambu got in behind the Barca defense a few minutes later, but Bravo cut down the angle. After surviving an opening ten-minute assault, the visitors worked their way into the match and took the lead on twenty minutes. A Lionel Messi free kick into a dangerous area forced Sergio Asenjo to come for it, but he did not quite get there. The rebound fell to Ivan Rakitic, and he placed home through a maze of Yellow Submarine legs. A goal against the run of play and from the visitors' first real chance.

0-1 Rakitic 20'

Then the match descended into chaos thanks to the inexperienced referee. He started the match card-happy -- with the first two yellows to Arda and Piqué for a handball which was perhaps harsh. But the ref inexplicably missed Piqué's second yellow card and resulting expulsion -- for a double handball to halt a dangerous Villarreal attack. The assistance of over 20,000 Yellow Submarine supporters at El Madrigal failed to sway him. In effect, Barca played with an extra man for 65 minutes.

And the next pivotal refereeing decision also went against the home team. Messi released Neymar, and it appeared that the Brazilian had rounded Asenjo for a tap-in. But Villarreal's once-and-future #1 made a brilliant play to deflect and then collect the ball. Neymar looked beaten, but the referee pointed to the spot. An outraged El Madrigal howled, Marcelino raged in his soundproof booth after being sent off for the Piqué non-call, and Neymar chipped home the penalty.

0-2 Neymar (pen.) 41'

Antonio Rukavina lashed out at Messi to earn a booking, but otherwise the frustrated men in yellow appeared to keep their composure. The referee was serenaded as he blew for halftime, and there was little to suggest that the hosts might get something out of the match.

Second Half

After the restart, Barca settled into control mode, keeping the ball for long stretches without threatening Asenjo's goal. Jordi Alba was booked for a late challenge on Soldado, but otherwise the Yellow Submarine did not create much. And then the match turned -- off went Piqué (half an hour late for Villarreal supporters), and on came Jeremy Mathieu to "fortify" the Barca defense. Not a typical culé change, and they were made to rue the defensive mindset shortly thereafter.

Denis Suárez was the most dangerous player in yellow, so no surprise that he was involved in the hosts' opener. Denis spurted through into Bravo's neighborhood and let go of a dipping shot to the keeper's right. Bravo got a hand on it, but no way he could control the rebound, and Bakambu was on the spot to knock it home.

1-2 Bakambu 57'

And that goal lifted El Madrigal. Within a few seconds, Bakambu nearly laid a one-on-one on a platter for Soldado, but the pass was broken up at the last minute (off camera thanks to the Spanish replay obsession). The resulting corner saw a header put wide, and the equalizer was not far behind -- after an important intervention from Asenjo on Neymar.

Again it was that man Mathieu. Villarreal's pressure forced another corner, and Soldado may have nicked a touch as Alba had him collared. The ball ricocheted off the hapless Frenchman and past a helpless Bravo. Six minutes and Villarreal had drawn level.

2-2 Mathieu 63'

Another great Asenjo save and a half-chance missed by Rakitic were the notable developments of the next fifteen minutes. And Villarreal's two danger men came off in Bakambu and Denis. But there were still a few twists: dangerous free kicks at both ends were squandered, and Manu shot over with the last boot of the match.

Full Time

A great point against a great opponent. A six-point lead going into the international break (truly five due to goal average). Eight rounds to play. Endavant Villarreal!