Barcelona kept their slim title hopes alive in dramatic fashion, coming from two down to claim a thrilling 3-2 win over Villarreal.
Goals from Cani and Manuel Trigueros gave Villarreal a 2-0 lead with just 25 minutes left to play, but two own goals and a strike from Lionel Messi kept the Catalans within four points of Atletico Madrid in their first game since the passing of former coach Tito Vilanova.
However, the victory was marred after a banana was thrown at Barca full-back Dani Alves - the Brazilian responding brilliantly by picking it up off the turf and eating it.
Villarreal grew in confidence as the first half progressed and came close to opening the scoring before the break, with Marc Bartra clearing Javier Ignacio Aquino’s strike off the line with keeper Pinto stranded.
However, the hosts did take the lead on the stroke of half time, with Cani latching onto Jonathan Perreira’s measured through pass to roll the ball into the bottom corner.
The hosts doubled their lead in the second half when Trigueros angled a pinpoint header past Pinto from an excellent Mario cutback from the wing.
But Barca were not about to give up and got themselves back in the contest when Dani Alves’ low cross into the six yard box took a deflection off two Villarreal defenders and ended up in the back of Sergio Asenjo’s net.
And Tata Martino’s side drew level in equally fortunate fashion, with Mateo Musacchio heading past his own keeper under little pressure.
Barcelona completed the comeback seven minutes before the full time whistle. Sergio Busquets scooped a wonderful pass over the top of the opposition defence for Cesc Fabregas to knock down to Messi, with the Argentinean finishing with aplomb and dedicating his winning goal to Vilanova.
26’ - STRETCH! Pedro gets to the byline and plays a handy cross into the box, looking for Messi. But Gabriel gets his head on the ball and clears the danger. The flag is up when the ball is played back into the area.
43’ - OFF THE LINE! Giovani breaks through the Barcelona backline, squaring the ball back to Aquino who looks to have an empty net to finish into. But Bartra doesn't give it up and clears off the line!
45’ - GOAL! Villarreal 1-0 Barcelona. The home side takes the lead! Perreira slots Cani through on goal with a measured pass, and the midfielder rolls the ball past Pinto into the bottom corner.
54’ - SAVE! Good save by Asenjo! Messi takes control of a freekick 25 yards out, after Xavi fluffed his lines from this distance in the first half. But the effort is saved by the on loan Atletico keeper. Solid stop.
55’ - GOAL! Villarreal 2-0 Barcelona. What a header! Mario surges up the right side, playing a wonderful cross into the box for Trigueros to run onto, who powers a header into the corner of the net.
57’ - ANOTHER SAVE! Villarreal have looked so dangerous on the break and once again, Barcelona have been punished. Mario's cross was perfect and Trigueros' header was even better. He put it in the only place Pinto couldn't reach it.
66’ - GOAL! Villarreal 2-1 Barcelona. Barca get lucky and have a goal to get themselves back in this game. Alves' cross takes a deflection off two opposition players and ends up in Asenjo's net.
79’ - OWN GOAL NO. 2! Villarreal 2-2 Barcelona. Oh dear. Musacchio is put off by the jump of Gabriel in front of him and under pressure at all he heads into his own net.
83’ - MESSI GOAL! Villarreal 3-2 Barcelona. The comeback is complete! Busquets scoops a great pass over the top for Fabregas, who knocks it down with his head for Messi. The Barca number 10 finishes with aplomb.
With 352 goals, Messi has now equalled Quini as the player with the most goals in the history of Spanish football.
Messi has also scored 12 goals in his last eight league games.
Barcelona have now conceded the first goal in each of their last five games.
Do Barca stand any chance of winning the title?
They need a few results to swing in their favour but as long as it can be mathematically done it would be foolish to rule out Barcelona, especially when they have Atletico on the last game of the season. This game highlighted their character in times of trouble.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona): The Spanish midfielder was a force of nature, breaking up opposition moves and even showing some attacking flair, demonstrated by his wonderful chipped pass for Messi’s winning goal.
Villarreal: Asenjo 8, Mario 7, Jokic 7, Pina 6, Musacchio 4, Perbet 5, Giovani 6, Cani 7, Trigueros 7, Gabriel 6, Bruno 4. Subs: Perreira 7, Aquino 6, Uche 5.
Barcelona: Pinto 5, Alves 7, Mascherano 5, Bartra 6, Adriano 5, Iniesta 6, Busquets 9, Xavi 6, Pedro 6, Messi 7, Alexis 7. Subs: Fabregas 5, Tello 5, Roberto 4.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lionel Messi
- Dani Alves
- Sergio Busquets