Tactical Insights

Barcelona loses thriller with Villarreal, falls 10 points behind Real Madrid

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Villarreal scored twice deep in stoppage time to win a shootout at Barcelona 5-3 on Saturday, dealing a painful blow to the host’s Spanish league title defense and perhaps the future of Xavi Hernández.

In one of the wildest games of the season, Villarreal was up 2-0 before Barcelona roared back with three goals in a 12-minute span to lead 3-2 in the 72nd minute.

But Barcelona’s defense again let it down and new Villarreal arrival Goncalo Guedes leveled on a counterattack in the 84th. Striker Alexander Sorloth then found the winner in stoppage time before José Morales added to Barcelona’s misery.

Barcelona was trying to bounce back from its elimination from the Copa del Rey at Athletic Bilbao this week. Instead, its loss to an erratic Villarreal will only add more pressure on Xavi to turn things around. Barcelona fell 10 points behind Real Madrid in a distant third place.


Vinícius Júnior and Aurélien Tchouaméni scored second-half goals as Real Madrid overcame Las Palmas 2-1 in the Canary Islands and reclaimed the league lead.

After a first half stalemate between the league’s top defenses, midfielder Javi Muñoz put Las Palmas ahead in the 53rd from a pass by Sandro Ramírez.

Vinícius Júnior leveled in the 66th after a nice assist by Eduardo Camavinga. Tchouaméni then went on as a late substitute and powered in a header with six to play to complete the turnaround.

“We didn’t play spectacularly but we played well enough,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We were going up against a team that holds the ball well and doesn’t concede much. We had designed a game plan to control the first half and then press forward in the second. It is an important victory.”

Madrid moved two points ahead of Girona before it visits Celta Vigo on Sunday. Madrid also has an extra game to play. Las Palmas was in eighth place.

Madrid was without top scorer Jude Bellingham, who was serving a one-game suspension for accumulating five yellow cards. Bellingham and Girona’s Artem Dovbyk lead the league with 14 goals each.

While Girona has been the feel-good story of La Liga, Las Palmas has also far exceeded expectations for a team that played in the second division last season and lacks a quality striker. Midfielder Kirian Rodríguez leads the team with five goals, and has completed the second highest number of passes in the entire league.

Coach Francisco García Pimienta, who coached Barcelona’s youth and reserve teams, has managed to make Las Palmas a defensively sound side not by packing the area but rather by holding possession.

That formula appeared to be working — until Camavinga shifted forward into a more creative role and linked with Vinícius to tilt the momentum Madrid’s way.

Defense dominated in the first half of the match between the Spain’s stingiest defenses — Madrid has allowed a league-low 14 goals and Las Palmas was next with 19.

Las Palmas started the second half well and broke through when Sandro led a counterattack before squaring a ball for Muñoz to fire home.

Madrid finally started to click with half an hour left. Camavinga found a way past Las Palmas’ backline with a chipped ball that Vinícius drilled in from an angle.

Madrid kept pressing for the winner and found it when Tchouaméni, who had just replaced Camavinga, charged in to meet Toni Kroos’ corner kick and beat goalkeeper Álvaro Vallés.

“We played a good first half against a great rival,” Muñoz said. “But when we went ahead, they took a step forward and we took a step back.”


AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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