3rd April, 2019
When the Barcelona line-up for the match against Villareal was announced and names of players like Lionel Messi, Gerald Pique and others were missing on the starting line-up, many true Barcelona fans knew they were in for a hectic kind of a game. And that is exactly what happened.
It took two fantastic late goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez to save Barcelona from the clutches of defeat as they rescued a 4-4 draw with Villarreal in an incredible contest at the Estadio de la Ceramica on Tuesday.
It was as if Villarreal had succeeded in breathing life back into LaLiga’s title race after they came from 2-0 down to lead 4-2, but substitute Messi – who had been rested – and Suarez remarkably managed to secure a share of the spoils to keep Barca eight points in front of Atletico Madrid ahead of their meeting on Saturday.
The game started on a thrilling note as the first half saw Barca race into a 2-0 lead against the run of play, with Philippe Coutinho and Malcom finding the net, but Samuel Chukwueze deservedly got Villarreal back in the contest after a rapid counter and a Marc-Andre ter Stegen error allowed Karl Toko Ekambi to level just after the break.
Then came goals from Vicente Iborra and Carlos Bacca which appeared to have put the contest beyond Barca, but Messi found the net with a brilliant free-kick in the 90th minute and Suarez broke Villarreal hearts in the third minute of stoppage time with a rasping finish.
The hosts, Villarreal, made a promising start, testing Ter Stegen twice inside the first 10 minutes, but Barca carved through them soon after – Malcom squaring across goal for Coutinho to finish.
It was Malcom who was decisive again with 16 minutes played, meeting Arturo Vidal’s cross with a looping header into the right side of the goal.
Barcelona’s dominance at this early stage continued as Coutinho hit the post a few moments later but then Villarreal soon capitalised with a devastating break, as Chukwueze neatly slotted home after his initial effort came back off the upright.
The same Chukwueze played a role again early in the second half, releasing Toko Ekambi up the right flank and his sliced cross punished Ter Stegen’s poor positioning as it crept in at the near post.
It got better for the home side as Iborra put them ahead for the first time just past the hour, clipping past Ter Stegen from Manu Morlanes’ incisive pass, before Bacca seemingly finished the champions off towards the end in rounding the German and slotting home.
But then appeared substitute Messi who shortly after the hosts’ Alvaro Gonzalez was dismissed for a second booking, blasted a 20-yard free-kick into the top-left corner at the end of normal time.
That was followed by Luis Suarez who rescued Barca with almost the last kick of the game, his sweetly struck left-footed half-volley from 18 yards giving Sergio Asenjo no chance.
For a while, it looked as though Messi’s impact from the bench was going to be minimal, but, as he often does, he found a way to inspire Barca in adversity. His goal – which came from a free-kick he won – was as brilliant as it was inevitable, and that spurred Barca on to pile the pressure on for the rest of stoppage time.
Another player who made his mark in this game is Malcom. Given just his second LaLiga start of the season, he took his chance, setting up the first goal and then scoring Barca’s second. Could this be the turning point in his Barca career?
Ter Stegen was not at his best in this game. Although he made a couple of smart saves early on, his good work was undone in the second half with his woeful positioning for Toko Ekambi’s goal, while it could also be argued that he should have been sharper off his line for Iborra’s strike. Luckily for him, Messi and Suarez salvaged a point.