WHAT. A. MATCH.
Barcelona remain unbeaten to start the season and have won their second La Liga game in a row thanks to a wild 4-3 victory away to Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica on Sunday afternoon. What will go down as one of best and craziest games of 2023-24 in Spanish football had Barça going up two goals before a complete collapse at the back that saw them going behind before mounting a comeback of their own to win a thrilling match in one of the most difficult stadiums to visit in the country. WHAT. A. MATCH.
From a neutral’s perspective, this was exactly the awesome game between two attacking teams you were hoping to see. Both sides went for it and played some great attacking football throughout the period, and there were four good goals in the game and loads of other chances.
But from a Barça standpoint, it was quite scary to see just how open they were at the back. The first 10 minutes could have been tragic, with the Yellow Submarine creating chance after chance and Barça somehow surviving without conceding a goal thanks to a very narrow offside and a masterful save by Marc-André ter Stegen.
Then in a span of three minutes Barça were somehow two goals up, thanks to a header by Gavi after a brilliant cross by Lamine Yamal and a smart finish from Frenkie de Jong after a deflection inside the box gave the Dutchman a golden opportunity that he didn’t waste.
Barça did play very well after scoring the goal and could have added a third with the quality of football they showed and the openings they found inside the Villarreal defense, but the Blaugrana’s backline cost them dearly towards the end of the period.
It started with Sergi Roberto being bullied off the ball inside the box and allowing Juan Foyth to score a free header to make it 2-1, and Alexander Sorloth got a tap-in to equalize after a beautiful passing sequence from Villarreal that cut open the Barça defense as the Catalans had no idea who to mark in transition.
At the break a wild first half ended with four goals, great attacking play and some awful defending from both sides, and if Barça wanted to leave the game with all three points they needed some serious improvement at the back in the final period.
Barça’s defending did not improve at all to start the second half and the Blaugrana conceded another really bad goal: Pedraza easily got past Sergi Roberto and was allowed to carry the ball for over 50 yards before assisting Álex Baena, who had time in space to pick out the far corner and complete Villarreal’s comeback just five minutes into the period.
The Catalans had a very good reaction to going behind, however, with Xavi Hernández making an attacking substitution with Ferran Torres coming on for Oriol Romeu and the Blaugrana continuing to threaten and create real chances with plenty of numbers forward and really good passing combinations to find spaces in the Villarreal backline.
Yamal hit the post with a sensational strike, Marcos Alonso forced a great save from Filip Jörgensen, and the visitors kept going until they completed a comeback of their own: first it was Ferran who made it 3-3 after not giving up on a play he started and scoring a great goal with his left foot, then Robert Lewandowski finally got off the mark for the season just three minutes later after the rebound from a Yamal shot that was saved onto the post by Jörgensen fell perfectly to the Pole for an easy tap-in.
There were still more than 20 minutes left to play, however, so Barça needed to take control of the game and try to guarantee the victory with a fifth goal while also staying organized at the back to avoid conceding again.
The fifth didn’t come thanks in part to Ansu Fati’s poor finishing and decision-making in his brief substitute cameo and Lewandowski missing a one-on-one with the keeper, but the defending was finally good enough to avoid any real trouble despite Villarreal’s late blitz in added time.
The final whistle came after 96 minutes of madness, and Barça somehow got all three points after a truly remarkable game of football in Vila-real. The defending was terrible for 60 minutes but there are real positives to take from this: the character to come back from 3-2 down away from home, the high level of the attacking play and the passing in midfield, especially without Pedri, and Lamine. Freaking. Yamal. That kid is so very special and his journey has only just begun.
There are things to improve, obviously, but this is a massive win and the offensive display is hugely encouraging. And finally Barça got to play against a team that wanted to play too. Isn’t football fun when both teams try to score goals?
Villarreal: Jörgensen; Foyth, Gabbia, Cuenca, Pedraza; Capoue (Denis 70’), Parejo (Brereton 86’), Terrats (Comesaña 70’); Gerard (Akhomach 70’), Sorloth, Baena (Morales 77’)
Goals: Foyth (26’), Sorloth (40’), Baena (50’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen (Eric 46’), Alonso; Romeu (Ferran 63’), De Jong; Yamal (Fati 76’), Gündogan (Fermín 86’), Gavi; Lewandowski
Goals: Gavi (12’), De Jong (15’), Ferran (68’), Lewandowski (71’)
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