Antoine Griezmann made the difference as Barcelona came from a goal down to beat Villarreal 2-1 at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday.
The game was off to a frantic start, as both sides came close to scoring before it settled into a rhythm. It was Barcelona who fashioned the first clear-cut chance, only for Frenkie de Jong to be denied by a brilliant save by Sergio Asenjo, at the end of a fine move that saw Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba produce some deft touches and passes.
Villarreal, though, scored against the run of play, as Samu Chukwueze produced a superb finish after being sent clean through on goal by Pau Torres. However, Barcelona struck back almost instantly through Antoine Griezmann, who was set up by Oscar Mingueza. The visitors headed into half-time with a slender lead, as Griezmann doubled his tally after gleefully receiving the ball from Juan Foyth.
While Barcelona had imposed themselves for much of the first half, Villarreal carried a greater threat post the interval, with Etienne Capoue coming close around the hour mark. The hosts’ hopes of mounting a comeback, though, suffered a hit when Manu Trigueros was sent off for a dangerous challenge on Messi.
However, Barcelona did not quite make good on their numerical advantage, conjuring up just one clear-cut chance in the final quarter of the game. But, they held on to their slender lead to bag a win, which takes them level on points with Real Madrid, while still having a game in hand. The Hard Tackle runs the rule over Ronald Koeman’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6/10
Brilliantly rounded off by Samu Chukwueze, ter Stegen did not have much of a chance to deny the Villarreal winger. Hardly called into action thereafter, although he did make one fine save with his right leg to deny Etienne Capoue. As ever, completed most of his attempted passes.
Oscar Mingueza: 7/10
A solid effort by Mingueza, who kept a check on former Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer superbly. Won 4 duels while completing 2 interceptions, clearances and tackles each. Brilliant pass to pick out Antoine Griezmann for the opening Barcelona goal, and constantly looked to move upfield while completing 88 percent of his passes. Much improved after the sub-par display in midweek.
Gerard Pique: 6/10
Caught out of position for the Villarreal goal and having lost quite a bit of pace in recent years, he was unsurprisingly unable to get back in time to stop Chukwueze from scoring. Kept the backline organised for the most part otherwise, though. And, on a personal level, he won 5 duels while also completing 3 interceptions.
Clement Lenglet: 7/10
Top-notch effort by Lenglet in the middle of the park, with the Frenchman continuing to improve after a bit of a lull midway through the season. With Barcelona in control of the proceedings, the Frenchman regularly moved into the Villarreal half, completing 99 percent of his attempted passes. Won 5 duels while completing 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, 1 block and 1 tackle.
Sergino Dest: 6/10
Back in the starting lineup, Dest oddly did not see as much of the ball as he would have liked, but was constantly in the Villarreal half in the opening 45 minutes. Mustered up a shot close to half-time, but could not create any opening for the front-men. Hooked off at half-time for Sergi Roberto.
Frenkie de Jong: 7/10
Frenkie de Jong’s game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
91% pass accuracy
77 total touches
4 attempted take-ons
4 successful take-ons
3 shots [1 on target]
3 attempted tackles
3 successful tackles
3 chances created
So influential with and without the ball. 🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/bSannmlogX
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 25, 2021
Inexplicably failed to convert from point-blank range after being set up by Jordi Alba, shooting towards the centre of goal despite having the entire net at his mercy. Saw another glorious chance coming his way, but his chipped effort was wide of the mark. Apart from the poor finishes, though, the Dutchman was top-notch, pulling the strings effortlessly in the middle of the park.
Sergio Busquets: 7/10
A solid effort by Busquets, who played a major role in ensuring Barcelona were in control of the proceedings for the most part while also setting a quick tempo to create swift openings. Misplaced just four passes all game while also opening up play smartly with some well-directed long balls. Job well done in the end.
A rare blip from Pedri, who seemed a bit jaded, with the minutes starting to show their effect on him. The Spanish prodigy was precise with the ball at his feet, but he lacked the incisiveness to get the better of the Villarreal defence. Worked hard off the ball, though, completing 2 interceptions and as many tackles.
Jordi Alba: 6/10
As ever, Alba was a constant outlet down the left flank and his link-up with Griezmann and Lionel Messi was simply delightful at times. Set up a fine chance for de Jong, only for the Dutchman to miss from a yard out. Faced some nervy moments up against Chukwueze and failed to keep a track of the Villarreal winger for his goal. Decent enough, though.
Lionel Messi: 6/10
A frustrating afternoon for Messi, who was subjected to a number of crunching tackles. Showed some brilliant close control, though, and on one such instance, he was involved in the move that saw Alba set up de Jong. One of those rare games when he did not quite look like he would score. Messi is allowed the odd day off, though.
Antoine Griezmann: 9/10
22 – Only Lionel Messi 🇦🇷 (32 – 23 goals, 9 assists) and Gerard Moreno 🇪🇸 (24 – 18 & 6) have been involved in more goals than Antoine Griezmann 🇫🇷 (22 – 13 & 9) in all competitions in 2021 among all LaLiga players. Happy. pic.twitter.com/VppQM4UgYj
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 25, 2021
The Player to Watch in our preview, Griezmann produced one of his best performances of the season to win the game for Barcelona. While he did not see a lot of the ball, the Frenchman was clinical in the most crucial junctures of the game. The finish for his first goal, in particular, was quite delightful while he also accepted the gift from Juan Foyth for the winner. Could have had a hat-trick on another day.
Sergi Roberto: 6/10
On for Dest at half-time, Roberto was largely pinned in his own half than veer into the Villarreal half, as the hosts showed a lot of intent post the break. Solid enough off the ball, though, which meant he was not put under a lot of pressure.
Ilaix Moriba: 6/10
On for Pedri, Moriba came within whiskers of scoring after being introduced. Settled in to help Barcelona see the game out.
Ousmane Dembele: N/A
A late introduction in place of Griezmann, Dembele was a bundle of energy in the dying embers of the game and even set up a superb chance for de Jong. Will be glad to get some minutes under his belt.
Ronald Araujo: N/A
A late introduction, Araujo helped see the game off.