TWO IN TWO FOR XAVI

Late goals from Memphis Depay and Phillipe Coutinho gave Xavi his second consecutive league win as Barcelona saw off Villarreal 3-1 at El Madrigal on Saturday night.

 

 

The match had an entertaining start with Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo going in hard on Sergio Busquets to show that the Yellow Submarine were not going to make it easy for Barcelona. It was an early marker of an intense affair that had a surprising amount of chances.

The first one fell to Barcelona youngster Abde Ezzalzouli who headed well from Memphis Depay’s corner in the fourth minute but Geronimo Rulli got a strong hand to tip it over the bar. The first chance of the night at the other end fell to Arnaut Danjuma after a poor giveaway by Eric Garcia. The winger’s shot though was blocked by the sliding Gerard Pique, with just a hint of a handball in it.

Barcelona responded in kind, creating two good chances in quick succession. The first one came via a delightful pass from Frankie de Jong who played in Memphis Depay. The Barcelona forward could only curl his shot wide of the past from inside the penalty box.

 

 

17-year old Gavi did better but not good enough for the lead – his shot from the left side of the box hitting Rulli’s far post. The game lulled a bit but chances continued to appear at regular intervals with Memphis getting an even better opportunity to give the visiting side the lead.

De Jong was again the creator with a brilliantly weighted through ball to the Dutchman who put it wide one-on-one with the Villarreal goalkeeper. It was then Villarreal’s chance to miss a golden opportunity albeit via an unlikely source.

Parejo’s corner deceived Marc-Andre ter Stegen and found the free head of Pau Torres. The central defender should have done better and hit the back of the net under little pressure but he headed the chance over and wide. Ter Stegen was again involved, this time more positively, as he made a good block from Danjuma who had the better of Eric Garcia all evening long.

 

 

The last notable event of the half was Villarreal left-back Alfonso Pedraza’s volleyed attempt which went wide from a Parejo free-kick. Inexplicably, given the number and quality of chances, the teams went into the break level.

The second half started in similar fashion but this time Barcelona took their chance. Abde got the better of Pedraza as he had on multiple occasions in the opening exchanges and crossed to the far post. Jordi Alba’s volley from that cross was half-saved by Rulli and de Jong was on hand to sweep home the rebound. The goal was initially flagged for offside but VAR overturned the decision correctly.

 

 

Barcelona were happy to drop deep and defend their lead after getting the goal and Villarreal struggled to create the chances they had in the first half with less space in behind. The next significant event came after the hour mark when Raul Albiol had a good shout for a penalty after being hauled down by Garcia from a corner. The referee and VAR however decided that it was not enough for a spot-kick to be awarded.

Villarreal pushed for the equaliser and Emery sent on Samuel Chukwueze for Yeremi Pino and the substitute created a gilt-edged opportunity for Manu Trigueros. He got on the end of a long punt forward from Rulli and cut the ball back for Trigueros who shot wildly over.

‘Samu’ then took it upon himself and got Villarreal a much-deserved equaliser. Barcelona were caught napping at the back as two quick flicks from Trigueros and Danjuma resulted in Samu being played in. His finish though was very smart, toeing the ball past on the half-volley past ter Stegen under pressure.

 

 

The pair of Trigueros and Samu combined again as the latter spotted the former’s smart run in behind but Trigueros’ touch was just too heavy as he attempted to round ter Stegen and the ball ran out of play. The Spanish midfielder had another opportunity as Parejo chipped in a good pass but Trigueros once again shot wide.

Villarreal looked dangerous with every attack with Danjuma the one to put his opportunity wide after isolating Garcia one versus one and cutting inside. And Emery’s men were made to pay for their missed opportunities as Memphis got the winner in the 88th minute.

 

 

Substitute Pervis Estupinan failed to deal with a long-ball forward by ter Stegen and his weak header back was pounced upon by Memphis who shrugged off Albiol before beating Rulli and scoring. The goal knocked the wind out of Villarreal’s sails and the frustration got the better of Juan Foyth who brought down Phillipe Coutinho in the penalty box in injury time.

Coutinho made no mistake and dispatched the spot-kick to put the game to bed. Barcelona were by far second best in the game but they got the win. Here are our key takeaways from the game –

 

BARCELONA YOUTH IMPRESS AGAIN

Barcelona’s recent success has been built on the back of their La Masia graduates and if they are to win anything soon then they will once again play a big part Pedri was the breakthrough star last season and Nico and Gavi have already made their mark for the first team this season. On Saturday night, it was Abde Ezzalzouli who had an outstanding game.

 

Abde Ezzalzouli
Abde Ezzalzouli taking on Pedraza (Courtesy: FC Barcelona/Twitter)

 

The youngster struggled a bit with the defensive aspect of the game but he was exceptional every time he went on the front foot. He had Pedraza’s number down Barcelona’s right wing all night until his substitution in the 65th minute and his contribution to the opener was telling.

 

MISSING MORENO

Villarreal were comfortably the more dangerous side in both periods, creating chances with ease against a very leaky Barcelona defence. Their profligacy costed them three points in the end as they really should have taken the lead at the very least in the second half in the period preceding Memphis’ goal.

Their struggle comes in the absence of Gerard Moreno who was the side’s top scorer last season and has been out with an injury for over a month. His return to the fold and to form will be key to reigniting Villarreal’s season which is drifting into nothingness.

 

SQUARE PEGS IN ROUND HOLES

While they did get the win, Xavi would be far from happy with the performance, especially defensively. Admittedly they are suffering from a big injury crisis which led to Abde and then Ousmane Dembele playing as the de-facto wing back on the right hand side but there was a huge lack of discipline from the side.

Oscar Mingueza was also forced to play out of position at left-back after injury to Alba and he struggled clearly. Xavi will want to clean up his team’s act ahead of a match against a good Real Betis side before they take on Bayern Munich in a make-or-break Champions League tie.

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