Barcelona 2-1 Villarreal
Barcelona bounced back from their shock defeat to newly promoted Granada as they recorded a 2-1 victory over Villarreal. Early goals from Antoine Griezmann and Arthur were enough to seal all three points for the Catalans at the Camp Nou as they continued their domination of the Yellow Submarine.
However, the much bigger piece of La Liga 2019 news from the match was that Lionel Messi, who was making his first start of the season following his calf injury, had to come off at half-time due to a groin problem.
Despite their win, question marks remain about the defending champions, who have yet to convince consistency this season.
Highlights of the game
After coming on as a substitute in his first two appearances, Messi was finally given his first start of the season alongside Luis Suarez and Griezmann.
And the Argentine didn’t waste much time attempting the game’s first shot on goal, which came after just two minutes. He latched onto a Sergio Busquets ball, but he could only smash the ball into the side netting from an acute angle.
But just four minutes later, Barca took the lead through Griezmann. The French forward got away from his marker to supply a glancing near-post header off a corner.
Barca began applying more pressure on the visitors, although a couple of their sweeping moves ended without a shot attempt.
But Arthur did get a shot off on 15 minutes, and it was an absolute missile. The Brazilian uncorked a brilliant strike straight into the top corner that will no doubt go down as one of the La Liga goals of the season.
Not to be outdone, though, Santi Cazorla answered with a wonder goal of his own to pull one back for Villarreal at the stroke of half-time. The Spanish midfielder unleashed a spectacular shot with his left foot that left Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen grasping thin air.
Barca went out in second half looking to restore their two-goal advantage without Messi, who had to come off with his groin injury.
Griezmann very nearly did just that as he wound up for a shot in the six-yard box after a delightful cross from Ousmane Dembele. Unfortunately, he completely missed his attempt at the half-volley.
Just moments later, it was Villarreal’s turn to come close to an equaliser. But Cazorla’s shot was saved by ter Stegen, and Gerard Pique was able to poke the ball out for a corner.
Luis Suarez, who was poor in the loss to Granada, had his only chance on 51 minutes. It was a poor one as he scuffed his shot, which rolled straight into Villarreal keeper Sergio Asenjo.
Samuel Chukwueze and Villarreal continued their search for an equaliser, but the Nigerian was unable to get his shots on target.
Barca manager Ernesto Valverde brought on teenage sensation Ansu Fati for the final 12 minutes, and the 16-year-old — who has impressed early this season — immediately made his presence felt.
His one-two with Griezmann was just offside, although he skied his shot over the bar anyway. And just minutes later, he came closer with another shot, which just whistled wide. Fati also attempted to draw a penalty, but it wasn’t given.
Griezmann had one last chance to add to Barca’s tally with an acrobatic effort right at the death. But in the end, the hosts didn’t need another goal as they hung on for all three points.
Barcelona were absolutely dominant in their first two home matches this season, which both resulted in 5-2 wins. However, they weren’t nearly as impressive against Villarreal. While they had 57 per cent of possession, they were outshot by their visitors, 11-8.
Chukwueze was the most lively Villarreal forward with four shots, although he was unable to get a single one on target. Gerard Moreno, La Liga’s co-leading scorer with five goals, was limited to just one shot.
Meanwhile, the La Liga 2019 betting odds — which had Barca as significant favourites — were proven right as the Catalans extended their home winning streak over Villarreal to 10 matches. They’ve also extended their unbeaten run over the Yellow Submarine to a remarkable 23 matches.
Barcelona’s next La Liga assignment will be this weekend away to Getafe. They then host Inter Milan in the Champions League. Check in on the SBOBET odds for that match in case Messi is unable to recover from his groin injury in time.
As for Villarreal, they will look to get back to winning ways when they host Real Betis this weekend.
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