Competition Focus

Barcelona vs Villarreal, La Liga: Final Score 3-5, Barça start poorly, complete comeback, collapse again, suffer wild loss at home

Barcelona’s hopes of winning back-to-back La Liga titles have effectively come to an end in disastrous fashion thanks to a 5-3 loss against Villarreal at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Saturday evening. Barça played an awful first half, dominated most of the second and completed an impressive comeback after going down by two goals, but somehow conceded three times after the 84th minute and were hurt by a couple of awful refereeing decisions en route to an inexplicable defeat that leaves them 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid and ends a difficult week on a sour note.


Villarreal manager Marcelino García Toral had a very clear gameplan: sit back, absorb pressure, frustrate Barça, score on the counter against a vulnerable defense. The plan worked perfectly for the entire half, and the Yellow Submarine could have actually taken the lead three minutes in if not for a correct offside call on Álex Baena.

The visitors stuck to their strategy and scored again when Gerard Moreno won the ball after a scramble in the box and found the back of the net, but for a second time in 20 minutes the goal was ruled out this time thanks to his strike partner Alexander Sorloth who was offside and blocked Ronald Araujo’s attempt to challenge Gerard’s shot.

They kept on defending well and picking the right moments to quickly break the other way, and the third time was the charm: a cross from Alexander Sorloth found Gerard all alone at the edge of the box and the Villarreal captain fired a gorgeous shot into the bottom corner. It took them 40 minutes and three attempts, but the visitors finally had a lead they richly deserved for their well-organized and efficient first half performance.

Barça, on the other hand, were a disaster: the Blaugrana were slow and apathetic with their movement in the attacking half and wasted countless promising attacks with bad touches and passes in the final third, and only Lamine Yamal and João Félix came even close to creating danger with shots from distance that were saved by Filip Jorgensen.

At halftime Barça were lucky to be trailing by just one goal, and they needed to play a lot better to have a shot at a comeback in the second half.


Xavi Hernández saw the issues with his team at the break and made a rare triple substitution at halftime with Pau Cubarsí, Pedri and the returning João Cancelo coming on, with Pedri and Cancelo tasked with giving the team more passing variety and better end product in the final third.

The Catalans looked more intense and moved the ball quicker in the early moments of the period and should have had a penalty seven minutes in when Yamal was brought down in the box by Eric Bailly, but the referee and VAR decided not to give it.

Two minutes after being denied a very strong penalty shout, Barça found themselves two goals down: a long ball from the back was poorly controlled by Cancelo which allowed Ilias Akhomach to run free through the middle and round Iñaki Peña before doubling the visitors’ lead. It was a bad mistake by the full-back who apologized to his teammates and the crowd, and it put Barça in a very difficult position with a little over 30 minutes plus stoppage time to play.

Xavi went to the bench again and sent on his most in-form player in Ferran Torres, and the Spaniard had an instant impact as he was involved in the buildup of the Blaugrana’s opening goal: Ferran’s through ball into the box deflected off Robert Lewandowski and fell perfectly to Ilkay Gündogan who curled a beauty into the bottom corner and gave the home team a chance to come back as we reached the hour mark.

Ferran almost equalized shortly after the first goal as a sensational passing sequence through the middle ended with a potential assist from Gündogan to find Torres all alone inside the box, but the forward couldn’t make enough contact with the ball and saw his effort go agonizingly wide.

Barça didn’t stop and continued to apply pressure, and it didn’t take long for them to find the equalizer: Yamal took on his defender on the right wing and found Gündogan in great position to shoot but the German couldn’t sort his feet out, but the ricochet fell perfectly to Pedri who fired a rocket with his left foot to make it 2-2 and give Barça a real chance to win it.

And the comeback was completed just three minutes later: after Cancelo won a free-kick on the left wing Gündogan’s cross into the box went over Ronald Araujo’s attempted header but hit Bailly, who scored against his own net and gave Barça the lead with 20 minutes to go.

The Blaugrana had completely turned the game around just as Marcelino made two defensive substitutions, and the Villarreal manager tried to correct course quickly to attempt a late comeback of his own while Xavi sent on Vitor Roque looking to wrap up the victory and secure the points.

Roque had a big chance to finally score his first Barça goal after a wonderful pass from Gündogan that left him one-on-one with the keeper, but the Brazilian’s shot went straight at Jorgensen who made an important save. Jorgensen made another great stop on a shot by Cancelo that deflect off Roque and required a quick reaction from the keeper, and it felt like Barça’s fourth goal was just a matter of time.

Then a bad pass from Gündogan ignited a lightning-quick counter for the visitors, and the ball found Gonçalo Guedes who fired a rocket past Iñaki Peña and into the bottom corner. Barça had only five minutes plus stoppage time to find a winner, and the Catalans had all of the ball as they tried to create one more golden chance.

That golden chance arrived in the 90th minute when a shot from Gündogan hit the arm of Santi Comesaña and the referee pointed to the spot. But VAR called the referee over to the monitor to review his decision, and José Luis Munuera Montero reversed the penalty call after a long look at the screen.

The Catalans were desperate and angry after the penalty denial and threw themselves forward looking for a late winner, but instead saw all three points slip away: a comedy of errors at the back starting with Ronald Araujo ended with a weak attempt to claim the ball by Iñaki Peña and allowed Sorloth to find a way to poke the ball home.

Three minutes later, after Araujo missed a massive chance on the other end, Villarreal went on the counter and José Luis Morales scored the visitors’ fifth on the night to finish the game off.

The final whistle came to end a horrible night for Barça, who suffered their worst and most costly defeat of the season. They cost themselves the victory with their apathetic attack in the first half and their awful defending throughout the night, but the terrible refereeing decisions also didn’t help. It was an all-around disaster, and despite a terrible defensive performance of their own Villarreal somehow found a way to win.

This one hurts and is hard to explain. Truly a night to forget.

Barcelona: Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen (Cubarsí 46’), Fort (Cancelo 46’); Gündogan, Romeu (Pedri 46’), De Jong; Yamal, Lewandowski (Roque 77’), Félix (Ferran 58’)

Goals: Gündogan (60’), Pedri (68’), Bailly (71’)

Villarreal: Jorgensen; Femenía (Mosquera 78’), Bailly, Cuenca, Moreno (Mandi 71’); Akhomach (Guedes 58’), Comesaña, Coquelin, Baena (Capoue 71’); Sorloth, Gerard (Morales 78’)

Goals: Gerard (41’), Akhomach (54’), Guedes (84’), Sorloth (90+9’), Morales (90+12’)

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