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.
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'