Another visit to the Camp Nou, another loss. This one was frustrating inasmuch as we didn’t trouble the home side very much. Of course, we know Barcelona have a more talented squad, but there have been times when Villarreal figured out how to negate that. Today, no.
More than that, this was the first time that I felt Barcelona were toying with us and wanted to demonstrate their superiority in some distinctly non-legal ways. At least, that’s the most charitable explanation I can give for a couple of incidents in the second half—Gerard Piqué putting his hand in Gerard Moreno’s face and raking it with his fingers, and Sergio Busquets falling over Pablo Fornals and giving him a deliberate blow to the mouth.
One never expects to get 50-50 calls at the Camp Nou, and referee José Munuera certainly didn’t give us any, but his performance was poor all the way round. His standards for yellow cards seemed to shift dramatically as the match continued. (In fairness, how Santy Caseres didn’t pick up one today, I don’t know; he and Busquets had a pretty good battle going).
The first 15 minutes were moderately even, and in fact had Villarreal’s best chance of the match as it turned out—a pass forward from Mario was badly cleared and Gerard Moreno, in a wrestling match with Piqué, shot against the post. No penalty, of course.
However, the remainder of the first half belonged to Barcelona, and while the exact manner of their goal was slightly problematic, it was no less than they deserved. Dembélé took a short corner, the ball came back to him (he was offside when he touched the ball again, though no one appealed at the time and there was no VAR review) and his cross was headed home by Gerard Piqué, above a standing Victor Ruiz. Not that Ruiz can jump well anyway, but it did look as though Piqué might have prevented him from doing so. However, there was no review for that, either.
The possession statistics in the first half were just brutal—75%-25% in favor of Barcelona, and even that seemed generous. Samu Chukwueze had run hard and showed some quality, but he didn’t have any passing options.
HT Barcelona 1-0 Villarreal
Villarreal improved things a bit after the break, at least when it came to possession. And there was yet another talking point in the first five minutes, as Alfonso Pedraza was bodychecked in the box and there was no call....the sort of play that in the middle of the pitch is always whistled as a foul against the defender—but a defender also knows he can probably get away with it in the area. And so it was here.
Anyhow, the match settled into what could have been a very nervy half-hour or so for Barcelona fans, and maybe it was, as Villarreal saw much more of the ball. However, we really didn’t seem to have much of an idea as to what to do with it; our play was too slow and predictable. A Santi free kick over the bar and another shot wide was about all we mustered in attack.
Barcelona finished the game off with three minutes left; Villarreal possession down the left was broken up, the ball found its way to Leo Messi who angled a deft diagonal pass to Carlos Aleña, who timed his run well. The sub then lifted the ball over Asenjo (well, off his shoulder, really) and into the net.
FT Barcelona 2-0 Villarreal
A disappointing match; I’m not sure what Villarreal’s game plan was other than hope, to be honest. Yes, Barcelona’s first goal should not have counted, but do you really feel as though we would have held on for a 0-0 result? Or, even if we had been given a penalty and converted it, would we have gotten anything out of this match? There didn’t seem to be any fire anywhere.
Bacca and Ekambi came on late but did nothing to change things; Sansone and Layun weren’t even in the squad.
To get anything in the Camp Nou some breaks help, of course, and we didn’t get those, but you also need Barcelona to be off their game, and they were. This was probably the worst performance I’ve seen them have against us at home since we returned to the Primera. And yet, we didn’t make them work very much.
The front office seems to feel as though things are OK. I think many of us who sat through this match will beg to differ. We did succeed in some areas—apart from one snatched chance in the area, and his assist late on, Messi was a non-factor, and we did a good job of keeping attacks away from the middle of the pitch. But, that said, that’s only half the game. In attack, I saw no confidence, no insight, no creative passing to open up what has been a struggling defense.
Once Barca realized Samu’s speed and put two guys on him, we had no plan B.
So, depending on how Athletic Club gets on tomorrow, we could be in the drop zone. Even though I don’t care about the Copa, Calleja now has to run the table, surely, to keep his job: win vs Almeria on Wednesday in the cup; win over Celta on Saturday at home; win over Spartak on Thursday in the Europa League (well, a draw would be OK there), and win away to Huesca on Sunday the 16th. Do all that, and he can, as they say in Spain, enjoy his turrón over the Christmas break.